Thursday, September 13, 2012

Survival Plant Profile: Ilex Vomitoria (The Black Drink!)

Yaupon tea: delicious, maligned, caffeinated.

The one thing most people will miss the most in a total societal breakdown is coffee. More specifically... the caffeine inside it.

We can live without malls, Tex-Mex restaurants and half-and-half... but coffee? That would be hard. Yet it’s already getting brutally expensive. Before I quit the caffeine habit, I stockpiled extra, just in case, since you just can’t grow the stuff here without a greenhouse. So, in the sad chance we may lose it for a while, there has to be an alternative source of caffeine for those of us with, shall we say, MASSIVE ADDICTION ISSUES.

Enter Yaupon: North America’s Very Own Native Caffeine Source!(TM)

Naturalists gave this plant the unfortunate Latin name “Ilex Vomitoria” because, as the story goes, the native Indians (Americans? Savages? Arboreal Peoples? Those Of The Awesome Headdresses?) would make and drink huge quantities of Yaupon tea, have visions, ecstatic frenzies, act crazy... and vomit their guts out. Sounds like either a Hippie Vision Quest or a Frat initiation.

Anyhow, the tea is delicious. It can not replace coffee, sadly, since nothing can do that... but it is a good way to get your morning (afternoon, evening, midnight) buzz. I prepare it thus - 

Clip some nice young leaves and stems.

Boil them for a while, until the water darkens to a nice mid-tone green/black.

Strain into a teacup, add a little sugar or honey, and serve!

(Technically, you’re supposed to dry or roast the leaves, hence its original name “The Black Drink,” rather than the “Scary Dark Green Drink,” but... green tastes great too. Quick note: don’t chew the raw leaves - they’ll irritate your mouth. If you need caffeine THAT bad, you need to seriously consider rehab.)

Now, for a long time, I looked around for a Yaupon tree to add to my landscaping. After fruit trees, nuts, berries and tobacco, having a caffeine source was pretty important. Turns out, Ilex Vomitoria is rather popular in Florida as an ornamental. I found my tree at Taylor Gardens Nursery, an excellent native (and exotic) plant source between Ocala and Gainesville off 329 in Sparr. It doesn't matter if you get the standard, the dwarf or the weeping version... they're all good sources for THE BLACK DRINK!



Name: Yaupon Holly
Latin Name: Ilex Vomitoria
Type: Small tree
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: Yes
Cold-hardy: Yes, and evergreen
Exposure: Sun, shade
Part Used: Leaves, small stems
Propagation: Cuttings
Taste: Excellent
Storability: Excellent
Ease of growing: Very easy
Nutrition: Low
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Moderate

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At March 31, 2013 at 9:27 AM , Blogger Hermitress said...

I have found the best way to prepare yaupon for tea is to pick the leaves, boil for 3 minutes (removes some of the saponins (also the boiling water can be used to wash your clothes or pour and ant beds) then I simply dehydrate the leaves then roast them. It is the roasting that releases the caffeine (same with coffee beans) else you are drinking green tea with low caffeine content. We have acres and acres of wild yaupon.

At September 28, 2013 at 2:14 AM , Blogger The Nerdy Housewife said...

I read that the best way to get your Holly On is to snip a stem, let it dry inside away from sunlight, and after two weeks steep the tea- you get a lot more of the caffeine that way, and it's supposed to taste better. Also that dry roasting the leaves at about 400 degrees gives it a very different and super delicious flavor profile.

The tea also is a good thing to dump on plants that are having bug issues- most things do OK for me but there's a HUGE problem with squash vine borers + squash bugs in my area, so dumping some on the baby squash plants is probably a good idea. Much less nasty than chemical pesticides, but works pretty well as a short-term fix if you need a bit of help before your predators get in cycle.

Hope that's helpful.

At September 17, 2014 at 12:40 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

I appreciate your site. Hope to set one up myself once I get more going on, as new to gardening. I'd be interested in a plant swap. I was hoping you would send me cuttings of the Yaupon Holly and Canna Lilly seeds (I believe I saw that's how they prop) and I would be glad to send some stuff in return, though, I think you may have most of what I have that is perennial. I have chaya, okinawan spinach, katuk and should have some pigeon pea (or gandules as called in PR) growing this Spring. Please let me know.

At September 17, 2014 at 12:49 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Sounds like I already have all of what you have; however, I'm always happy to share. E-mail me off the sidebar "contact" link.


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