Yaupon

When you need a pick-me-up, you might turn to a few different beverage options. Some prefer to start their day with a cup of coffee, while others may enjoy tea in the afternoon. Energy drinks and soda are also popular, though these options can leave you with a sugar crash.

Another energy-providing beverage that has become more popular recently is yaupon tea. Yaupon is a type of holly and the only caffeine-producing plant native to North America. Its scientific name is Ilex vomitoria, but don’t let that worry you! According to Vicki Shufer in an article for HerbalGram, the name was coined by Scottish botanist William Aiton, who based it on “the Native American ritual that involved consuming a strong brew of yaupon, possibly combined with other herbs, resulting in ceremonial vomiting.” That is to say, yaupon on its own does not induce vomiting, no matter what the name suggests.

Although yaupon is similar to tea in that it is brewed and caffeinated, those who have tasted it describe it as having a much milder taste thanks to its lack of tannins. Some have described it as earthy, similar to green tea or yerba mate (which is in the same family as yaupon). And, like tea, it boasts a number of health benefits. Yaupon is filled with antioxidants, which the body uses to combat oxidative stress that can lead to all kinds of health issues. Yaupon leaves also contain polyphenols that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive (cancer-preventing) properties, according to a 2011 study by Giuliana D. Noratto et al. for the journal Filoterapia.

Yaupon also has theobromine, a compound that supports brain function. Theobromine is typically recognized for its presence in chocolate, and its effects on cognition have been the subject of numerous studies. For example, a study by Rafiad Islam et al. for the journal Nutrients found that rats given theobromine supplements had better working memory than those that did not. Other research by L. Gao et al. for the Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease examined nearly 3,000 participants and found that those who consumed higher amounts of theobromine had more improved cognitive function than those who did not, though the authors concede that further research is still necessary.

One of the most significant benefits (and consequently, one of the biggest drawbacks) is yaupon’s caffeine content. Steve Talcott, a professor of food chemistry at Texas A&M University, said in an NPR article that the level of caffeine in yaupon is similar to that of black or green tea. For those that tolerate caffeine well, yaupon tea is a good alternative to energy drinks and soda if one’s aim is remaining alert. However, not everyone can or should consume caffeine, and if you are negatively impacted by caffeine or your doctor advises against it, yaupon tea isn’t for you.

Yaupon is primarily grown in the southern United States, where most yaupon tea is produced and sold. This means that for those living in the U.S., yaupon typically has a smaller carbon footprint than coffee or traditional tea since it does not need to travel as far to get to the end consumer. The plant is also easy to keep on hand. If you purchase yaupon tea, just make sure to store it in an airtight glass or jar as you would other kinds of loose-leaf tea.

Yaupon may be new to some, but it has a long history of consumption. Though its scientific name gives it an unfortunate reputation, yaupon boasts a number of health benefits. So, the next time you need an afternoon pick-me-up, try a cup of yaupon tea to appreciate a beverage that has been enjoyed for centuries.


Alison DeGuide is the media manager at IFANCA, as well as the editor of Halal Consumer Magazine. She is interested in food, nutrition, and sustainability, especially how to prevent food waste.

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