Written by Steven Schmucker
You’ve probably seen Yaupon a hundred times without realizing it. A member of the holly family, Yaupon has the characteristic waxy, green leaves and bright red berries. If you don’t have Yaupon as part of your home’s landscaping, chances are you’ll find it down the street at the edge of some woodlands. The plant is commonly used to make natural fences in yards, and gets little attention beyond the occasional trimming. But did you ever think you could make tea from this plant?
Growing in a region spanning from Texas, across the South East, and as far north as Southern Virginia, this hardy plant can take almost any growing conditions: sandy, nutrient deprived soils, unrelenting heat, and little rain. European settlers found Natives drinking the tea and using the plant in a variety of ceremonies. And they liked it! Settlers took to drinking the tea and even sent it back to Europe; however, it’s popularity was shadowed by Camellia sinensis, the Asian plant you likely think of when you hear the word tea. Thus, Yaupon’s popularity as a drink dwindled, reduced to hedgerows and wreaths, labeled a weed when growing wild.
But Yaupon has so much to offer.
The only caffeinated plant native to North America, the waxy green leaves can be dried, lightly roasted,
and brewed into a tea. The brewed elixir takes on a golden-brown hue, with an earthier profile than green tea. The tea has similar caffeine content and antioxidant properties as green tea.
At Commune, we’re getting our Yaupon from Vickie Shufer. With a master’s degree in therapeutic herbalism, Vickie has spent some time researching the benefits of this plant. She harvests leaves from her own yard in southern Virginia Beach and from a property she owns in the northeast corner of North Carolina, providing Commune with the raw material that we roast into a usable form.
While I prefer to drink my Yaupon hot and unsweetened, it makes a great iced tea too. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, we add a little homemade sorrel syrup, bringing a fun zing of citrus to the party! Next time you’re at Commune, ask for a glass of local tea to complement your meal!