tl;dr: We made yaupon (aka cassina tea) from foraged Ilex vomitoria leaves. It’s awesome. Yes, there’s video.
As part of my long-standing research obsession about yerba mate and in anticipation of our upcoming course on Stimulants & Society here at Duke, we thought it was high time to try our hand at the stimulating infusion that’s native to the southern U.S.: yaupon or cassina brewed from Ilex vomitoria.
Don’t be deceived by the name of this holly: it’s not an emetic and, as far as we can tell (and pharmacologists corroborate), the main effect of drinking this concoction is the pleasant buzz of caffeine.
The yaupon holly grows from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Texas. Apparently, there’s a disjunct population of Ilex vomitoria in central Mexico, a testament I suspect to precolonial trade routes. Yaupon was used by Indigenous groups all over the southern coast of North America as part of the famous Black Drink ceremony. (And it’s most likely still used today.) There’s also thinking that this became quite important to enslaved Africans in the U.S. south.
In any case, it grows all around. Including just outside our living room window here on Duke’s East Campus. And so, based on 18th and 19th century descriptions of how to prepare the leaf, we just did it:
1) We picked them from a yaupon holly growing outside our building. (We knew they were the right plant because of the serrated leaf.)
2) We toasted the leaves from bright green to dark green/almost black. This released a sweet and woodsy fragrance.
3) We crushed the leaves by hand. (Could’ve used the mortar and pestle.)
4) We simmered about a cup of leaves with more than a quart of water for 30 minutes and then strained the liquid.
5) It’s a dark golden, honey color and, in fact, a similar smell.
6) And then we tasted it: it’s awesome. It has a notable caffeine buzz and it tastes somewhere between black tea (Camellia sinensis) and mate cocido (Ilex paraguariensis steeped in water).