Old Florida Brew Boasts Caffeinated Comeback

Bryon White

Orlando Sentinel - October 16, 2016

Joy Wallace Dickinson

Florida Flashback

 

I recently saw a humorous birthday card depicting a woman of a certain age, wrapped in a fuzzy bathrobe, who appears poised to pour an entire pot of coffee directly into her mouth. As a shameless caffeine addict, I could relate.

And I loved learning about the revival of a caffeine-rich drink with roots deep in Florida's history: yaupon holly tea.

"It's the only caffeinated plant native to North America," says Bryon White, who with his brother, Kyle, reintroduced centuries-old yaupon tea into Florida commerce in 2012 for the first time in more than 100 years, according to the website for Yaupon Brothers American Tea.

"Both of us are University of Central Florida guys," White says; "Kyle is a current student, and I'm an alumnus." Their company is based in New Smyrna Beach.

White has a master's degree in criminal justice but he's also fascinated by ethnobotany. "I'm kind of a plant nerd," he says, and he knows plenty about the history of this native shrub, which is also rich in anti-oxidants.

The Black Drink Crier

Although yaupon grows elsewhere, it;s surely a "quintessential old Florida thing," White notes.

Yaupon was one of the main ingredients from which Seminoles and earlier native peoples concocted the "black drink" that was so important in their ceremonies.

In fact, the name of the most famous Native American in Florida history — Osceola — is an Anglicized version of "Asi-yaholo," which meant something like "Black Drink Crier." The "asi" is the part that meant the drink. (The Spanish called the tea "cassina.")

This cup of tea was a serious business. It was an honor to be named Black Drink Crier; it didn't just refer to a guy who poured a mean caffeine drink — Osceola as barista.

'Worst P.R. in the universe'

But the way the Indians used the black drink — at least as settlers of European origin described it — has given yaupon a bit of a bad rap.

During purification rituals, Seminole men "would boil the drink to excess and drink it to excess," says Peggy Sias Lantz, author of "Florida's Edible Wild Plants: A Guide to Collecting Cooking" (2014).

Besides making the black drink incredibly strong, it's also likely that the Seminoles and other Indian groups added additional, toxic native plants to their yaupon brew to achieve the purgative effects they sought.

By the way, yaupon is pronounced "YO-ponn," says Lantz, a longtime resident of the Woodsmere area in west Orange who really knows her Florida history as well as her native plants.

Because the natives chugged the extremely strong "black drink" on an empty stomach, seeking purification, the poor yaupon holly was given the Latin name "Ilex vomitoria" in the late 18th century by no less than William Aiton (1731–1793), Scottish botanist and gardener to King George III at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

That Latin name is "the worse P.R. in the universe," White jokes. And I'll admit, because of the stories about the black drink's purgative effects, when I was first offered a taste of yaupon iced tea a couple of years ago, I was a little apprehensive — and then surprised. It's good stuff.

'Delectable tea'

As Lantz notes in "Florida's Edible Wild Plants," when the leaves of the yaupon holly (not the berries) are brewed lightly as one would with any other tea, they make "a quite delectable tea." Yaupon is especially good as iced tea, White notes.

Southerners turned to yaupon tea especially during the Civil War and at other times when coffee and tea were hard to get, he says.

Now, Yaupon Brothers maintains partnerships with Florida farmers to cultivate the holly leaves, the company's website notes; the White brothers cultivate their own shade-grown yaupon on a12-acre farm in Volusia County.

Many folks like the fact that "it's grown right in their backyard," says White. To learn more, visit yauponbrothers.com.

Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at jwdickinson@earthlink.net, FindingJoyinFlorida.com, or by good old-fashioned letter at the Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.

Copyright © 2016, Orlando Sentinel

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That's some cup of tea: Strong, black brew boasts rich history in Florida

Bryon White

That's some cup of tea: Strong, black brew boasts rich history in Florida

  • An interpreter at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee examines a large turtle shell recently in the Apalachee council house, a reconstruction of a late 17th-century building that could hold as many as 3,000 people for ceremonies and gatherings.
An interpreter at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee examines… ( Joy Wallace Dickinson,…)
February 3, 2013|Joy Wallace Dickinson, Florida Flashback

I drink too much coffee. And I make it strong. It's so strong that members of my family have been known to take a sip and tactfully slip around the corner to the popular shop sometimes known as "Charbucks" in search of a kinder brew.

So perhaps my coffee addiction explains my excitement at recently tasting some real Florida caffeine: not coffee but the yaupon holly tea that Native Americans called "the black drink."

Actually, the name of Florida's most famous Native American, Osceola, is an Anglicized version of "Asi-yaholo," which meant something like "Black Drink Crier." The "asi" is the part that meant the drink.

The Spanish called the tea cassina, and residents at Tallahassee's Mission San Luis drank it more than a hundred years before Osceola's time, and before the native people known as Seminoles moved south into Florida.

No 'primitive outpost'

San Luis was a big deal in early Florida. In the late 1600s, more than 1,400 Apalachee Indians and Spaniards lived there in a two-culture community.

It began about 1633, as one of the more than 100 mission settlements established in Spanish Florida between the 1560s and the 1690s.

Today, you can find the entrance to Mission San Luis in our capital, just a few blocks from the Florida State University campus, where Tennessee Street crosses Ocala Road.

It's an archaeological site and living-history museum where impressive reconstructions of long-ago structures help explode "the popular belief that all Florida missions were simply primitive outposts," to quote its website, missionsanluis.org.

That statement was about the reconstruction of the Spanish church at San Luis — it's great — but what really knocked my socks off was the Apalachee council house, a re-creation of one of the largest historic Indian structures in the southeastern United States.

Built of wood and palm thatch, the council house is 120 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall, dimensions based on solid archaeological evidence. It could accommodate as many as 3,000 people.

There's nothing like a concrete, physical structure to bring home the reality of the civilization that created it — its sophistication, abilities and organization.

A serious beverage

Apalachee rulers used the council house to discuss community business and to gather their people for significant ceremonies — dances, rituals and preparations for war — in which the black drink played an important role.

This cup of tea was a serious business. It could only be brewed and served in the Apalachee council house, unless the chief gave special permission.

Other Florida Indian groups, including the Timucuans and the later Seminoles, also took the beverage seriously — which explains why it was an honor to be named Black Drink Crier; it didn't just refer to a guy who poured a mean caffeine drink, Osceola as barista.

Made from the roasted leaves and twigs of the yaupon holly, asi or cassina was full of caffeine. During purification rituals, Apalachee men drank it hot and strong, sometimes on an empty stomach, and they drank a lot of it quickly. They chugged it. The Latin name for the plant is Ilex vomitoria, so you can guess the result.

The sample I tasted during a recent visit to Mission San Luis was cool, though, sort of like ice tea, and quite pleasant.

In colonial times, the black drink was not always consumed in its atomic, ritual strength, and had a following among the Spanish. The Mission San Luis visitor guide tells the story of a friar who once stormed into the council house. In the grip of the 17th-century version of coffee nerves, he threw a bit of a tantrum "because he was not given his black drink on time."

When the Apalachee men weren't at war, they used their own caffeine-fueled powers to participate in a ball game that was "an integral part of native life," according to the visitor guide.

"The game involved 50 or more players and was quite violent. . . . Superior ball players became pampered celebrities in their villages, much like athletic stars today."

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Florida Friendly Plant of the Week: Yaupon Holly

Bryon White

Florida Friendly Plant of the Week: Yaupon Holly

Lilly Browning is the Hernando County Florida Friendly Landscaping Program Coordinator

Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, is a great native plant that can be used as a shrub or as a small, specimen tree. They have tiny leaves and produce white, spring through summer flowers. The red fruit provides food for wildlife in the late fall and into the winter. It will grow 15-30 feet tall and 6-20 feet wide. They prefer wet or partially moist soil. They enjoy a sunny to partial sunny location in the landscape. They have a high salt tolerance, so it is a plant to think about if you live on the coast.

This holly also has good wind resistance. It can sucker and produce a thicket, if you are looking for a good screening hedge. Consider planting Yaupon Holly at least 30 feet away from your house or any structure, as they are quite flammable. Being a native plant, it attracts birds and butterflies. If you want the berries, some of which are red, others are orange and others are yellow, you will have to obtain a female plant. Both male and female yaupons have flowers, so don’t rely on that to determine whether or not you’ll have berries. If you prefer not to have berries, the dwarf variety ‘Nana’ does not produce berries.

You can find out more about this great plant, including what’s up with its Latin name at this site:

http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/shrubs/ya...

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Yaupon Brothers Purchases Land in Central Florida

Bryon White
Yaupon Brothers is purchasing twelve acres of land in Volusia County, Florida for use as a Yaupon farm. Stay tuned to our webpage to keep apprised of our progress!

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Kyle's Interview with Dear Rockstar's Pam Hoelzle

Bryon White

Listen to this great interview with our co-founder, Kyle White, and Pam Hoelzle from Dear Rockstar!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYt7hg64pN8&feature=youtu.be

 

 

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Spring Flush Harvest Update! ----March 1st, 2016

Bryon White

It's time for our annual spring flush, and the Yaupon game is strong!

 

Here's a pic of Kyle with some of the huge leaves which are coming through at our Florida harvest sites.

 

We'll be sure to keep you updated as the harvest progresses!

 

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Spring Flush Harvest Update! ----March 1st, 2016

Bryon White

It's time for our annual spring flush, and the Yaupon game is strong!

 

Here's a pic of Kyle with some of the huge leaves which are coming through at our Florida harvest sites.

 

We'll be sure to keep you updated as the harvest progresses!

 

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USDA Yaupon Factsheet

Bryon White

 

YAUPON

Ilex vomitoria Aiton

Plant Symbol = ILVO

Contributed by: USDA NRCS East Texas Plant Materials Center

Photo courtesy:USDA/NRCS East Texas Plant Materials Center

Caution: Ingestion of berries causes nausea and vomiting. Yaupon is the only plant native to North America that contains caffeine.

Alternate Names

Yaupon holly, cassena, cassina, cassine, evergreen cassena, evergreen holly, Indian black drink, Christmas berry.

Uses

Ethnobotanical: Native Americans in the southeastern United States used this plant extensively. They used the wood to build arrows, and roasted leaves and shoots to make a dark, tea like drink called "black drink". This drink was used medicinally to induce vomiting and for ceremonies to purify the body. It was also used socially as a drink or offering to indicate friendly intentions to guest.

Landscaping: Yaupon makes an excellent hedge plant. It is an evergreen, and when trimmed correctly, produces a thick screen of vegetative material. Individual specimens can be readily trimmed into ornamental designs and shapes. Yaupon is adapted to a wide array of soils and climate conditions. It is disease free, moderately fast growing, and tolerates drought extremely well once established. Female plants produce numerous, showy red berries in the fall as long as male plants are available for pollination.

Wildlife: Many species of song and game birds utilize the berries in the fall. Small mammals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and armadillos will also consume berries. Deer browse the foliage, but it is not considered preferred browse. Yaupon is capable of forming dense, monotypic, thickets, which provide excellent cover for a wide array of wildlife, especially in winter after most plants have dropped their leaves.

Status

Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g., threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).

Description and Adaptation

Yaupon is a native, perennial, evergreen shrub capable of reaching approximately 30 feet in height under ideal conditions. The bark is smooth, light grey with lighter grey to nearly white splotches. The leaves are alternate and oval in shape. They are dark green with a leathery appearance and a lighter colored underside. The leaf margins have a slight serration that easily distinguishes this species from the similar looking, invasive, non-native, Chinese privet, Ligustrum sinense Lour. Chinese privet has come to occupy a similar niche in the environment since it was introduced through the horticulture and landscape industry in the late 1800s.

Yaupon fruits are small berries with a beautiful, translucent, red color. They form in dense clusters throughout the plant and remain attached through winter and into spring making them an important winter food source for a variety of bird species. Each fruit contains 4 hard, oblong seeds or nutlets that have a striated appearance.

Yaupon can be found throughout the southeastern United States, especially along the coastal plains, on soils with pH between 4.5 and 7.0. It is adapted to a wide variety of soils textures, but typically prefers sandy sites. It is shade tolerant and moderately tolerant to salinity and salt spray. Fire and prescribed burns reduce its presence in the understory.

Yaupon distribution from USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.

Establishment

Yaupon is most easily established via transplants. It is found readily in the wild, and may be dug in the spring and fall to avoid the stress of summer heat. Small saplings may then be moved to desired locations or potted for later use. Containerized plants are also available from the nursery industry. Yaupon is a hardy plant that transplants well. Trimming the tops of freshly dug plants will help reduce stress via moisture loss. Seed is reported to take up to 18 months to germinate and requires cold stratification. They should be sown in flats in the fall, and left outside to over winter. Transplants may be removed from the seedling tray as they appear. Yaupon does not require high fertility, but application of a complete fertilizer such as 13-13-13 will increase the speed of establishment and promote quicker growth. Always be sure to water transplant in after planting to reduce stress and to create good soil to root contact.

Management

When used as an ornamental or hedge, keep plants watered and fertilized for maximum performance. Frequent, light watering will promote shallow root development. Longer, less frequent watering intervals promote deeper root development and a more drought resistant plant. Trimming will encourage regrowth and creates a densely limbed shrub. Lower limbs may be removed on specimen trees to expose the lightly colored bark which provides an attractive contrast with the dark green foliage.

Yaupon can be aggressive and is capable of forming dense monotypic stands, especially in cutover timberland in the southern states, which may compete with tree seedling establishment. This can shade out desirable tree plantings. As previously stated, Yaupon is not fire tolerant. As fire frequency increases, this species will decrease. Yaupon spreads via root suckers when cut. Cutting will compound the plant density exponentially unless stumps are treated with an herbicide immediately after they are cut.

Pests and Potential Problems

Yaupon has no serious pest or disease problems.

Environmental Concerns

None.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin)

Yaupon is readily available through the commercial nursery industry. There are no released varieties from the USDA/NRCS Plant Materials Program.

Prepared By: R. Alan Shadow, USDA NRCS East Texas Plant Materials Center, Nacogdoches, Texas. May 2011

Citation

Shadow, Robert, A. 2011Plant fact sheet for Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria. USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, East Texas Plant Materials Center, Nacogdoches, TX, 75964.

Edited:

For more information about this and other plants, please contact your local NRCS field office or Conservation District <http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/>, and visit the PLANTS Web site <http://plants.usda.gov> or the Plant Materials Program Web site <http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov>

USDA IS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY PROVIDER AND EMPLOYER

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USDA Yaupon Factsheet

Bryon White

 

YAUPON

Ilex vomitoria Aiton

Plant Symbol = ILVO

Contributed by: USDA NRCS East Texas Plant Materials Center

Photo courtesy:USDA/NRCS East Texas Plant Materials Center

Caution: Ingestion of berries causes nausea and vomiting. Yaupon is the only plant native to North America that contains caffeine.

Alternate Names

Yaupon holly, cassena, cassina, cassine, evergreen cassena, evergreen holly, Indian black drink, Christmas berry.

Uses

Ethnobotanical: Native Americans in the southeastern United States used this plant extensively. They used the wood to build arrows, and roasted leaves and shoots to make a dark, tea like drink called "black drink". This drink was used medicinally to induce vomiting and for ceremonies to purify the body. It was also used socially as a drink or offering to indicate friendly intentions to guest.

Landscaping: Yaupon makes an excellent hedge plant. It is an evergreen, and when trimmed correctly, produces a thick screen of vegetative material. Individual specimens can be readily trimmed into ornamental designs and shapes. Yaupon is adapted to a wide array of soils and climate conditions. It is disease free, moderately fast growing, and tolerates drought extremely well once established. Female plants produce numerous, showy red berries in the fall as long as male plants are available for pollination.

Wildlife: Many species of song and game birds utilize the berries in the fall. Small mammals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and armadillos will also consume berries. Deer browse the foliage, but it is not considered preferred browse. Yaupon is capable of forming dense, monotypic, thickets, which provide excellent cover for a wide array of wildlife, especially in winter after most plants have dropped their leaves.

Status

Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g., threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).

Description and Adaptation

Yaupon is a native, perennial, evergreen shrub capable of reaching approximately 30 feet in height under ideal conditions. The bark is smooth, light grey with lighter grey to nearly white splotches. The leaves are alternate and oval in shape. They are dark green with a leathery appearance and a lighter colored underside. The leaf margins have a slight serration that easily distinguishes this species from the similar looking, invasive, non-native, Chinese privet, Ligustrum sinense Lour. Chinese privet has come to occupy a similar niche in the environment since it was introduced through the horticulture and landscape industry in the late 1800s.

Yaupon fruits are small berries with a beautiful, translucent, red color. They form in dense clusters throughout the plant and remain attached through winter and into spring making them an important winter food source for a variety of bird species. Each fruit contains 4 hard, oblong seeds or nutlets that have a striated appearance.

Yaupon can be found throughout the southeastern United States, especially along the coastal plains, on soils with pH between 4.5 and 7.0. It is adapted to a wide variety of soils textures, but typically prefers sandy sites. It is shade tolerant and moderately tolerant to salinity and salt spray. Fire and prescribed burns reduce its presence in the understory.

Yaupon distribution from USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.

Establishment

Yaupon is most easily established via transplants. It is found readily in the wild, and may be dug in the spring and fall to avoid the stress of summer heat. Small saplings may then be moved to desired locations or potted for later use. Containerized plants are also available from the nursery industry. Yaupon is a hardy plant that transplants well. Trimming the tops of freshly dug plants will help reduce stress via moisture loss. Seed is reported to take up to 18 months to germinate and requires cold stratification. They should be sown in flats in the fall, and left outside to over winter. Transplants may be removed from the seedling tray as they appear. Yaupon does not require high fertility, but application of a complete fertilizer such as 13-13-13 will increase the speed of establishment and promote quicker growth. Always be sure to water transplant in after planting to reduce stress and to create good soil to root contact.

Management

When used as an ornamental or hedge, keep plants watered and fertilized for maximum performance. Frequent, light watering will promote shallow root development. Longer, less frequent watering intervals promote deeper root development and a more drought resistant plant. Trimming will encourage regrowth and creates a densely limbed shrub. Lower limbs may be removed on specimen trees to expose the lightly colored bark which provides an attractive contrast with the dark green foliage.

Yaupon can be aggressive and is capable of forming dense monotypic stands, especially in cutover timberland in the southern states, which may compete with tree seedling establishment. This can shade out desirable tree plantings. As previously stated, Yaupon is not fire tolerant. As fire frequency increases, this species will decrease. Yaupon spreads via root suckers when cut. Cutting will compound the plant density exponentially unless stumps are treated with an herbicide immediately after they are cut.

Pests and Potential Problems

Yaupon has no serious pest or disease problems.

Environmental Concerns

None.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin)

Yaupon is readily available through the commercial nursery industry. There are no released varieties from the USDA/NRCS Plant Materials Program.

Prepared By: R. Alan Shadow, USDA NRCS East Texas Plant Materials Center, Nacogdoches, Texas. May 2011

Citation

Shadow, Robert, A. 2011Plant fact sheet for Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria. USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, East Texas Plant Materials Center, Nacogdoches, TX, 75964.

Edited:

For more information about this and other plants, please contact your local NRCS field office or Conservation District <http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/>, and visit the PLANTS Web site <http://plants.usda.gov> or the Plant Materials Program Web site <http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov>

USDA IS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY PROVIDER AND EMPLOYER

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Where Does Yaupon Grow? An Inside Look at Yaupon's Natural Range

Bryon White

     While Yaupon's cousin, the Yerba Mate, grows throughout Southern Brazil and Northern Argentina, Yaupon is a North American species. In fact, Yaupon is endemic to the Southeastern United States, meaning that it naturally grows nowhere else. A disjunct population has been reported from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, but the observations are scant, and we doubt that Yaupon is growing there naturally.

 

     Yaupon is North America's only native caffeinated plant species, and it has been consumed by Native American tribes for at least 10,000 years. Traditionally, the natural range of Yaupon extends from East Texas in the west, to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in the east. It does not normally occur north of the "fall line", which is the point where the alluvial plain transitions to the "piedmont", or foot hills. Cities along the fall line include Macon and Augusta in Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina. In Florida, Yaupon grows down to Palm Beach County on the east coast, and to Sarasota County on the west coast. By archaeological accounts, Florida is the historic center of Yaupon production. Today, all of Yaupon Brothers teas originate from the east coast of Florida.

 

     Although Yaupon may occur inland, it prefers coastal environments. Especially forests known in Florida as "maritime hammocks." In Texas, Yaupon has become especially plentiful in between Austin and Houston, and it is treated as somewhat as a nuisance in those areas because it's extremely flammable and cattle will not usually eat it. Without a canopy overhead, Yaupon in Texas has become widespread. Along the east coast of the US, Yaupon continues to grow as it always has; as an understory shrub or small tree. Yaupon is a slow-growing, but long-lived species. It is also extremely hardy, and able to withstand extreme temperatures, salt spray, and a wide range of soil types and growing conditions. Yaupon survives in sun or shade, but it's growing habits will adapt to the level of sunlight it receives. Here at Yaupon Brothers, we find that shade-grown Yaupon produces larger leaves which have a better taste and aroma.

   Have any questions about Yaupon? Feel free to use the contact form and ask away!

 

   Bryon White

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