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!

 

Read more →

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!

 

Read more →

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

Read more →

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

Read more →

Where Does Yaupon Grow? An Inside Look of 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

Read more →

Yaupon Brothers Processing Plant - Inside Look

Bryon White

Yaupon Brothers is now working with our friends Jen & Steve Lorch of Table Rock Tea, Co., in Pickens County, South Carolina. Steve & Jen will be lovingly processing our Yaupon just as if it were their own tea. Speaking of, Table Rock Tea is one of only a handful of tea plantations in the United States. Jen & Steve have over 11,000 seedlings of Camellia Sinensis in their state-of-the-art greenhouse. That's impressive! We'll keep you updated on our adventures with Table Rock Tea!

Steve spreading some Florida Yaupon on the withering table.

The Yaupon Bros in the processing area at Table Rock Tea!

 

Check out Table Rock Tea here: http://www.tablerocktea.com/

 

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Yaupon Featured in Nutritional Outlook Magazine

Bryon White

Yaupon, the Only Caffeine Source Native to the U.S., Has Potential to Explode

From a glance at the U.S. caffeine market, it might seem like all the great energy ingredients come from other parts of the world. Coffee is thought to originate in the Middle East, tea comes from Asia, and even alternative energy ingredients like guarana, guayusa, and yerba mate hail from South America.

There is, however, one local contender looking to break onto the scene. Yaupon holly, the only naturally occurring caffeine-containing plant in the United States, has the potential to become the next hyped alternative to coffee. Celebrated for its combination of homegrown appeal, pleasant taste, and possible health benefits, yaupon tea has plenty going for it. But will consumers be put off by its unflattering history?

 

The “American Yerba Mate”

“If you’re looking at trends in caffeinated beverages, the thing I think that is the most interesting right now, and the one that’s got the potential bullet for market expansion, is yaupon,” says Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director, American Botanical Council (Austin, TX).

With the popularity of yerba mate and guayusa teas in the United States, it’s no stretch to imagine the success of their close relative, yaupon. A member of the same Ilex genus as its South American cousins, yaupon is native to southeastern states from East Texas to Georgia. The plant’s leaves contain around 1% caffeine, says Blumenthal, similar to the caffeine content of yerba mate. But the taste may be even better.

“It tends to have, especially when it’s roasted, in my opinion, a sweeter or more pleasant taste than mate, which is a positive,” says Blumenthal.

Recent research seems to back up Blumenthal’s opinion. In a study1 of 75 individuals aged 18 and older, participants sampled unidentified tea infusions of yaupon holly and yerba mate, then rated their favorability of the taste. On a scale from 1 to 9, 41% of participants scored yaupon a rating of 4 or higher, compared to only 19% who gave yerba mate the same rating. The researchers suggested the preference might be due to the fact that yaupon is less bitter than mate.

Yaupon tea has been drunk in pockets across the American South for hundreds of years and was used medicinally by Native Americans, says Blumenthal, but modern commercialization of yaupon has only begun in the last few years. However, among the few companies who are marketing yaupon teas, there is definite agreement that the market is quickly growing.

 “We put our first product out in 2012, and we have grown exponentially since then,” says Bryon White, president and CEO, Yaupon Asi Tea (New Smyrna Beach, FL). Fellow yaupon purveyors Texas Yaupon Tea (Bastrop County, TX) and Cat Spring Tea (Cat Spring, TX) have also seen a big increase in interest since launching in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

“At the time, it was extremely rare for anyone to have heard of yaupon tea, and now more and more people say they’ve read about or heard about it,” says Maridel Martinez, founder and owner, Texas Yaupon Tea. “Most people around here are familiar with the plant but have no idea it is caffeinated or that you can make a tea from it. They are always pleasantly surprised when they sample it.”

Early research into the potential health benefits of yaupon have also been promising, with an in vitro study2 from Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) suggesting that a yaupon extract may have anti-inflammatory properties and a high concentration of antioxidants.

But if this all-American caffeine source is so great, why is it only being commercialized now?

 

A History to Reckon With

Which brings us to yaupon’s cultural history and rather unfortunate scientific name, Ilex vomitoria. The plant was named in 1789 by William Aiton, a Scottish botanist, as a reference to its use in a Native American ceremony during which men would drink huge amounts of the yaupon-filled “black drink” in order to induce vomiting and gain energy.3

The purification ritual often preceded wars or marriages, with yaupon holding an important place in the culture of Timucuan Native Americans and later Seminoles, according to Francis Putz, professor of biology and forestry, University of Florida (Gainesville, FL). Indeed, even the name of the famous Seminole leader Osceola is an Anglicized version of “Asi Yahola,” meaning “black drink singer,” says Putz.

Yet in spite of its name, several studies4 have shown no such emetic effect in yaupon leaves. It may have been that the “black drink” contained other ingredients that induced vomiting or it was simply the massive amount the men consumed that made them purge.

There is also another, more sinister theory behind Ilex vomitoria’s name, says Putz. It’s possible that Aiton was bribed by Ceylon tea merchants working in England to give yaupon its unattractive name as a way to shut down competition. Although this early case of corporate espionage lacks proof, Putz believes it to be true.

But regardless of how the name originated, it may well have undermined earlier attempts at commercializing yaupon. In the same study1 where participants rated the taste of yaupon compared to yerba mate, they also completed a survey on how likely they were to purchase a yaupon beverage. While 12 of the 75 participants said they would be interested in purchasing “a caffeine-containing tea made from a shrub native to North America that was consumed by Amerindians and early European colonists,” only 7 continued to hold that belief after learning yaupon’s scientific name and ritualistic history.

For companies like ASI Tea (Savannah, GA), which launched the first ready-to-drink (RTD) yaupon tea a little over six months ago, that history may still be working against them. Lou Thomann, founder, says that yaupon’s legacy is the company’s “biggest challenge.”

“Anyone trying to commercialize this is going to have to deal with that story,” says Thomann, adding that his philosophy is “don’t hide it, celebrate it. It’s an amazing story. If anyone wants to root for the underdog, this thing has been the underdog.”

 

Building from the Ground Up

Yaupon’s distinctly American heritage is a big part of the appeal, but it can also make things more difficult for suppliers. For one, labor costs are considerably higher in the United States than in developing countries where many other caffeine ingredients originate.

“There is the financial challenge of American labor rates throughout harvesting and processing, in contrast to lower internationally sourced coffee and tea production costs, which means yaupon tea will be a more expensive specialty,” says Abianne Miller Falla, cofounder, Cat Spring Tea. Cat Spring Tea currently wild-picks its yaupon leaves.

Yaupon’s relative newcomer status as a commercial ingredient also means there are no established methods or supply chains to tap into, but Falla says this has given Cat Spring Tea the freedom to experiment with a variety of techniques in improving its treatment of the yaupon leaf.

Although several companies have plans for RTD yaupon teas in the future (and one yaupon moonshine), ASI Tea is the first company to offer a line of RTD yaupon teas, which debuted in late 2014. Other native Southern ingredients, such as muscadine grapes, aronia berries, local wild mints, and wild yaupon honey, are combined with yaupon in the RTD teas, says Thomann, which each contain around 30 mg of caffeine.

“We’re selling a really healthy, native, local, wild-picked American treasure,” says Thomann.

After hundreds of years of obscurity and undeserved stigma, yaupon’s time on the commercial caffeine market may have finally arrived.

 

Also read:

What Actions Could FDA Possibly Take on Caffeine This Year?

Guayusa Is More Than Caffeine

Energy Drinks: Consumers Seek Healthy Ingredients

 

 

References

  1. Wainwright AE et al. “A misleading name reduces marketability of a healthful and stimulating natural product: a comparative taste test of infusions of a native Florida holly (Ilex vomitoria) and yerba mate (I. paraguariensis).” Economic Botany, vol. 68, no. 3 (September 2014): 350-354
  2. Noratto GD et al. “Flavonol-rich fractions of yaupon holly leaves (Ilex vomitoria, Aquifoliaceae) induce microRNA-146a and have anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive effects in intestinal myofibroblast CCD-18Co cells.” Fitoterapia, vol. 82, no. 4 (June 2011): 557-569
  3. Putz FD. “Yaupon redeemed.” The Palmetto, vol. 31, no. 3 (2014): 9-11
  4. Palumbo MJ et al. “Ilex vomitoriaait. (yaupon): a native North American source of a caffeinated and antioxidant rich tea.” Economic Botany, vol. 63, no. 2 (June 2009): 130-137

 

- See more at: http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/sports-energy/yaupon-only-caffeine-source-native-us-has-potential-explode#sthash.mqPACTEv.dpuf

From a glance at the U.S. caffeine market, it might seem like all the great energy ingredients come from other parts of the world. Coffee is thought to originate in the Middle East, tea comes from Asia, and even alternative energy ingredients like guarana, guayusa, and yerba mate hail from South America.

There is, however, one local contender looking to break onto the scene. Yaupon holly, the only naturally occurring caffeine-containing plant in the United States, has the potential to become the next hyped alternative to coffee. Celebrated for its combination of homegrown appeal, pleasant taste, and possible health benefits, yaupon tea has plenty going for it. But will consumers be put off by its unflattering history?

 

The “American Yerba Mate”

“If you’re looking at trends in caffeinated beverages, the thing I think that is the most interesting right now, and the one that’s got the potential bullet for market expansion, is yaupon,” says Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director, American Botanical Council (Austin, TX).

With the popularity of yerba mate and guayusa teas in the United States, it’s no stretch to imagine the success of their close relative, yaupon. A member of the same Ilex genus as its South American cousins, yaupon is native to southeastern states from East Texas to Georgia. The plant’s leaves contain around 1% caffeine, says Blumenthal, similar to the caffeine content of yerba mate. But the taste may be even better.

“It tends to have, especially when it’s roasted, in my opinion, a sweeter or more pleasant taste than mate, which is a positive,” says Blumenthal.

Recent research seems to back up Blumenthal’s opinion. In a study1 of 75 individuals aged 18 and older, participants sampled unidentified tea infusions of yaupon holly and yerba mate, then rated their favorability of the taste. On a scale from 1 to 9, 41% of participants scored yaupon a rating of 4 or higher, compared to only 19% who gave yerba mate the same rating. The researchers suggested the preference might be due to the fact that yaupon is less bitter than mate.

Yaupon tea has been drunk in pockets across the American South for hundreds of years and was used medicinally by Native Americans, says Blumenthal, but modern commercialization of yaupon has only begun in the last few years. However, among the few companies who are marketing yaupon teas, there is definite agreement that the market is quickly growing.

 “We put our first product out in 2012, and we have grown exponentially since then,” says Bryon White, president and CEO, Yaupon Asi Tea (New Smyrna Beach, FL). Fellow yaupon purveyors Texas Yaupon Tea (Bastrop County, TX) and Cat Spring Tea (Cat Spring, TX) have also seen a big increase in interest since launching in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

“At the time, it was extremely rare for anyone to have heard of yaupon tea, and now more and more people say they’ve read about or heard about it,” says Maridel Martinez, founder and owner, Texas Yaupon Tea. “Most people around here are familiar with the plant but have no idea it is caffeinated or that you can make a tea from it. They are always pleasantly surprised when they sample it.”

Early research into the potential health benefits of yaupon have also been promising, with an in vitro study2 from Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) suggesting that a yaupon extract may have anti-inflammatory properties and a high concentration of antioxidants.

But if this all-American caffeine source is so great, why is it only being commercialized now?

 

A History to Reckon With

Which brings us to yaupon’s cultural history and rather unfortunate scientific name, Ilex vomitoria. The plant was named in 1789 by William Aiton, a Scottish botanist, as a reference to its use in a Native American ceremony during which men would drink huge amounts of the yaupon-filled “black drink” in order to induce vomiting and gain energy.3

The purification ritual often preceded wars or marriages, with yaupon holding an important place in the culture of Timucuan Native Americans and later Seminoles, according to Francis Putz, professor of biology and forestry, University of Florida (Gainesville, FL). Indeed, even the name of the famous Seminole leader Osceola is an Anglicized version of “Asi Yahola,” meaning “black drink singer,” says Putz.

Yet in spite of its name, several studies4 have shown no such emetic effect in yaupon leaves. It may have been that the “black drink” contained other ingredients that induced vomiting or it was simply the massive amount the men consumed that made them purge.

There is also another, more sinister theory behind Ilex vomitoria’s name, says Putz. It’s possible that Aiton was bribed by Ceylon tea merchants working in England to give yaupon its unattractive name as a way to shut down competition. Although this early case of corporate espionage lacks proof, Putz believes it to be true.

But regardless of how the name originated, it may well have undermined earlier attempts at commercializing yaupon. In the same study1 where participants rated the taste of yaupon compared to yerba mate, they also completed a survey on how likely they were to purchase a yaupon beverage. While 12 of the 75 participants said they would be interested in purchasing “a caffeine-containing tea made from a shrub native to North America that was consumed by Amerindians and early European colonists,” only 7 continued to hold that belief after learning yaupon’s scientific name and ritualistic history.

For companies like ASI Tea (Savannah, GA), which launched the first ready-to-drink (RTD) yaupon tea a little over six months ago, that history may still be working against them. Lou Thomann, founder, says that yaupon’s legacy is the company’s “biggest challenge.”

“Anyone trying to commercialize this is going to have to deal with that story,” says Thomann, adding that his philosophy is “don’t hide it, celebrate it. It’s an amazing story. If anyone wants to root for the underdog, this thing has been the underdog.”

 

Building from the Ground Up

Yaupon’s distinctly American heritage is a big part of the appeal, but it can also make things more difficult for suppliers. For one, labor costs are considerably higher in the United States than in developing countries where many other caffeine ingredients originate.

“There is the financial challenge of American labor rates throughout harvesting and processing, in contrast to lower internationally sourced coffee and tea production costs, which means yaupon tea will be a more expensive specialty,” says Abianne Miller Falla, cofounder, Cat Spring Tea. Cat Spring Tea currently wild-picks its yaupon leaves.

Yaupon’s relative newcomer status as a commercial ingredient also means there are no established methods or supply chains to tap into, but Falla says this has given Cat Spring Tea the freedom to experiment with a variety of techniques in improving its treatment of the yaupon leaf.

Although several companies have plans for RTD yaupon teas in the future (and one yaupon moonshine), ASI Tea is the first company to offer a line of RTD yaupon teas, which debuted in late 2014. Other native Southern ingredients, such as muscadine grapes, aronia berries, local wild mints, and wild yaupon honey, are combined with yaupon in the RTD teas, says Thomann, which each contain around 30 mg of caffeine.

“We’re selling a really healthy, native, local, wild-picked American treasure,” says Thomann.

After hundreds of years of obscurity and undeserved stigma, yaupon’s time on the commercial caffeine market may have finally arrived.

 

Also read:

What Actions Could FDA Possibly Take on Caffeine This Year?

Guayusa Is More Than Caffeine

Energy Drinks: Consumers Seek Healthy Ingredients

 

 

References

  1. Wainwright AE et al. “A misleading name reduces marketability of a healthful and stimulating natural product: a comparative taste test of infusions of a native Florida holly (Ilex vomitoria) and yerba mate (I. paraguariensis).” Economic Botany, vol. 68, no. 3 (September 2014): 350-354
  2. Noratto GD et al. “Flavonol-rich fractions of yaupon holly leaves (Ilex vomitoria, Aquifoliaceae) induce microRNA-146a and have anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive effects in intestinal myofibroblast CCD-18Co cells.” Fitoterapia, vol. 82, no. 4 (June 2011): 557-569
  3. Putz FD. “Yaupon redeemed.” The Palmetto, vol. 31, no. 3 (2014): 9-11
  4. Palumbo MJ et al. “Ilex vomitoriaait. (yaupon): a native North American source of a caffeinated and antioxidant rich tea.” Economic Botany, vol. 63, no. 2 (June 2009): 130-137

 

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