Yaupon Holly Tea

Foliage of Dodds Cranberry yaupon holly

Foliage of a yaupon holly variety (Ilex vomitoria 'Dodds Cranberry').
See more photos on Trees & Powerlines. (©UF/IFAS, Edward Gilman)

Enjoying a warm cup of coffee or tea provides many a gardener with a jolt of energy to start their day. What if you could grow your own caffeine-rich tea leaves right in your own back yard? Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), makes a great tea alternative and it is the only plant native to North America that contains caffeine.

Now, don't be scared off by the word "vomitoria" in its scientific name. It comes from yaupon tea's historical association with purifying rituals where copious amounts of tea were consumed to induce vomiting. This should not deter the interested gardener; when consumed in moderate amounts, the tea will not cause intestinal distress.

Not only can yaupon tea give you a caffeine boost, this tasty tea can also give you a boost of antioxidants. Researchers at UF focused on the yaupon variety 'Nana' and found that the leaves had the same antioxidation potential as blueberries and as much caffeine as Asian green tea.

Antioxidants aren't the only similarity between Yaupon tea and green tea; both can have a greenish color when brewed. Using fresh leaves will produce a green tea while using roasted leaves will produce a darker brown tea. As such, there may be some variation in how your tea looks, depending on how you prepare the leaves and how long you steep them.

If you like even more caffeine in the morning, add a little more nitrogen fertilizer to your yaupon holly. Researchers found that adding nitrogen fertilizer increased the number of leaves produced by female plants and upped the caffeine levels by a whopping 265 percent!

It's important that you only brew tea from Ilex vomitoria, as there are a number of native holly plants and many of them are not safe for consumption. Also, remember whenever you try a new food to go slowly and make sure that you aren't allergic to it.

For more information on yaupon holly, contact your county Extension office.

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