In an article published online in Economic Botany, undergraduate researcher Alisha Wainwright and Francis E. Putz from the Department of Biology report the results of a taste test comparing tea brewed from a common plant native to Florida (yaupon holly) with its close relative from South America, yerba mate. Through the 1800s, yaupon was a commonly consumed beverage throughout the South, and was exported to Europe often under the trade names of “Appalachina” and “Carolina tea.” More than 1000 years ago, yaupon was an important trade good enjoyed as far north as Cahokia in what is now the state of Illinois.
Today, in contrast, yaupon goes unrecognized by most tea drinkers while yerba mate imports into the USA amount to millions of dollars per year. In a “blind” taste test conducted by Wainwright as part of her senior thesis research, yaupon was preferred over yerba mate even by frequent drinkers of the latter. One reason for the disregard of yaupon was revealed by her study. Although yaupon and yerba mate are equally high in caffeine and anti-oxidants, the scientific name of yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) caused participants to be leery of buying it, even though research indicates that yaupon is no more emetic than Ceylon tea, coffee, or cola drinks. Experience yaupon tea for yourself! Leaves can be harvested from pesticide-free ornamental shrubs or from wild plants growing in forest understories throughout the South.