Not Only a Holiday Decoration: Yaupon Holly Recipes

Yaupon holly is the only caffeine-containing plant indigenous to the United States. It has been used for hundreds of years among Native Americans for purification ceremonies.

Key takeaways:
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    Yaupon holly is the only indigenously grown caffeinated plant in the United States.
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    Technically, Yaupon is not a tea and instead, a plant infusion. Tea and Yaupon are often confused because they both contain caffeine.
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    This tea has both historical and modern day uses and health benefits.
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    Although the berries of Yaupon holly are mildly poisonous, the leaves, stems, and bark make a safe and beneficial tea.
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    You can make your own Yaupon holly infusions and create delicious tea and cocktail recipes.

Today, Yaupon holly is most commonly known for its use in making Christmas decorations and is gaining popularity as a tea you can drink for great health benefits. In this article, we’ll explore the uses and benefits of Yaupon holly, as well as share some delicious recipes to try!

Yaupon holly is a plant you might most associate with Christmas decorations. With its bright red berries, waxy green leaves, and greyish bark, it is unmistakable during the holidays. What’s unique about Yaupon holly is that it makes a great caffeinated drink and is the only indigenous caffeine-producing plant in the United States!

Plants from the Ilex genus contain more caffeine than tea (Camellia sinensis), but less than coffee. You might be more familiar with Yaupon’s relative, Yerba mate, a popular tea from South America. Even though Yaupon and Yerba mate isn’t technically from the tea family of plants, they are referred to as tea because preparation involves steeping the dried leaves in hot water, which is similar to making tea.

History of Yaupon

Yaupon tea was originally used by indigenous peoples for purification rituals and was called the black drink. The name Yaupon comes from the Siouan language, Catawban, and is a blend of the words tree and leaf. The Caddo, Cherokee, Yuchi, Chickasaw, Muscogee, Choctaw, and other indigenous peoples living in the southern areas of North America would brew the whole plant and drink it to cause vomiting, what they considered to be purification and cleansing.

Using the tea to induce vomiting is thought to be how the plant got its Latin name, ilex vomitoria, from early American settlers. It was later found that the berries are the poisonous part of Yaupon holly and that drinking tea made from the leaves, stems, and bark is safe and offers many health benefits.

Yaupon holly is gaining popularity as a healthy alternative to tea. Its infusions are great additions to beverages and cocktails, adding a kick from the caffeine and some great health benefits from the other compounds found in the plant.

Yaupon tea benefits

Yaupon holly contains a variety of bioactive compounds, specifically alkaloids and polyphenols. These compounds are responsible for the health benefits of Yaupon. These benefits include:

  • Fights inflammation
  • Chemopreventative
  • Antioxidant activity
  • Relatively low caffeine levels

Yaupon berries – don't eat them:

The berries are considered the potentially poisonous part of the Yaupon plant so steer clear of them. Ilicin is a toxic alkaloid found in the berries and, although not very poisonous, the small red or black berries are considered dangerous to children and animals.

Some symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stupor due to depression of the central nervous system. Thus, when making or purchasing Yaupon tea, always be sure it’s made only from the leaves and bark of the plant, not the berries.

Yaupon holly recipes

Now that you’re familiar with Yaupon holly, its benefits, and to stay away from the berries, let’s look at some recipes to make your own tea and cocktails.

Basic Yaupon tea

  • 1 tbsp Yaupon leaves (ground, placed in a tea ball, tea bag or French press).
  • 2 cups of water.
  • Boil water, pour over Yaupon leaves, steep five minutes.
  • After steeping, strain off leaves and enjoy your tea.

Yaupon tea with simple syrup

You need to make a simple syrup first, to add to your tea. Go further and make a nice cocktail with the mix!

  • 1 tbsp of Yaupon infused simple syrup.
  • Tart cherries.
  • 1 fresh orange rind slice.
  • 2 oz of Bourbon or Rye Whiskey.
  • 2 dashes of bitters.
  • For the syrup, place five teabags or five to six teaspoons of Yaupon tea directly into an eight ounce bottle of simple syrup, and leave it for at least three days.
  • It should turn a greenish-golden color.
  • Then sir or shake all the ingredients together in a rocks glass, add ice, and enjoy.

Creamy Yaupon tea

  • Yaupon leaves.
  • Rum of choice.
  • Eggnog of choice.
  • Nutmeg and/or cinnamon.
  • Steep five teabags or five to six teaspoons of Yaupon tea in 750 ml of rum and let sit for two to three days.
  • If you used loose tea, strain the leaves from the rum before using.
  • Use the Yaupon rum and add it to your favorite egg nog (homemade, store-bought, or even dairy free).
  • Mix to taste, garnish with nutmeg and/or cinnamon, and enjoy.

Yaupon pear cider

For this recipe, you can also use apple juice or apple cider.

  • 2 cups filtered water.
  • 2 rounded tsp loose leaf or 2 sachets/bags Yaupon.
  • 2 cups sparkling pear cider.
  • 3 cups pear juice.
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract.
  • 5 whole cloves.
  • 1/2 cup brandy (optional).
  • 3 tbsp orange liqueur.
  • Pear slices/rounds and cinnamon sticks for garnish.
  • Boil water and steep Yaupon tea for three to five minutes, then strain.
  • In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the pear cider, pear juice, vanilla extract, and cloves to a boil. After it comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered.
  • Remove from heat and stir in Yaupon tea, brandy, and orange liquor.
  • Strain into a large pitcher to serve. Garnish with a pear round and cinnamon stick.
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