Yaupon holly both a decoration and drink
BY TESS MALONE
Ride Crane Bike Path from the Historic District to the Beach Village and you can see dense blankets of yaupon holly on the maritime forest floor. Smaller than its holly cousins, American and dahoon, yaupon is dioecious, meaning male and female plants present differently. While both bloom white flowers in spring, only the female sports bright-red berries in fall just in time for holiday decor. (Just don’t eat the fruit; it’s poisonous, like most holly berries.)
Gardeners can cultivate yaupon easily in their yards, considering it needs only one trim a year. (It looks best in a shrub or tree shape.) But yaupon is more than just simple decoration. The leaves of the yaupon plant (Ilex vomitoria)—the leaves, not the
berries—are edible. And caffeinated.
Native Americans in the Southeast brewed yaupon to make a “black drink” for use during religious ceremonies, social meetings, and other important occasions. By the early 1700s, Europeans used it for, among other purposes, a breakfast drink and a medicine. It was believed to treat smallpox and to purify drinking water.
Today, steeping the fresh or dried leaves produces a tea similar to a yerba mate, a more potent type of tea. You can also blend the leaves with sugar and fresh fruit for a more flavorful brew. “My favorite is fresh raspberries,” says the Jekyll Island Authority’s natural resources manager, Yank Moore.