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Yaupon Legend Dispelled

yaupon leavesIn February we posted a blog about yaupon tea. It contained a legend about why the holly plant was given a name with negative connotations – Ilex vomitoria, The legend caught the attention of botanist Alan T. Whittemore, Ph.D. at U.S. National Arboretum responds. At his urging we’ve revised the post to reflect our newest information. — Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster

A small café in St. Augustine, Florida, served me tea made from yaupon, a caffeine-containing holly shrub that grows wild in southeastern Florida. The infusion made from its dried young leaves tastes like black tea without tannic bitterness and has the pep power of the traditional caffeinated beverages. Its high-antioxidant content is a bonus.

Yaupon tea was popular with indigenous people until colonists replaced it with imported Asian teas made from Camellia sinensis. Camellia sinensis, with little exception, has proven nearly impossible to grow in the New World.

Legend has it that British colonists were so intent on preserving their control of the tea trade – and its fortunes — that the native yaupon tea was given the distasteful Latin name Ilex vomiteria; thus creating a marketing nightmare.

Alan T. Whittemore, Ph.D., U.S. National Arboretum says:

“The name was given by Linnaeus, who was Swedish and not connected with British trading interests.  The East India Company monopoly on trade with China applied only within British possessions, of course.  Yaupon was locally used by English settlers in Carolina and Spanish in Florida, but there is little evidence that it was ever exported commercially.”

Growers and distributors like Yaupon Brothers in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, are working to bring the American native tea back to the table and with it a share, however small, of the $13 billion U.S. tea market.

Bryon White, co-founder of Yaupon Brothers and self-described “plant nerd” stumbled on a thick hedge of yaupon in 2011. “I was working in the garden and came across yaupon. I had read old books about native and indigenous peoples consuming it and thought it was cool.”

So he tried it and liked it.

yaupon fire roastedBryon and his brother Kyle White teamed up to rekindle the yaupon tea market. They started selling yaupon in 2012. A year later they received their USDA Organic certification. Today they wildcraft the tea from 12 acres in Volusia County, Florida.

The brothers sell four products – fire-roasted, green, chai and lavender coconut. These are available in 20 states, Canada, and the UK, in more than 180 retail locations or online at YauponBrothers.com and on Amazon.

In addition to selling yaupon to the retail market, the White brothers are working to introduce the easy-to-grow shrub as an alternative cash crop to Florida farmers whose citrus trees are being devastated by a lethal disease.

And, for those in growing zones 7 to 10, they’re offering one-gallon Ilex vomitoria shrubs for sale.