Photos and Information about Piver's Island, the Rachel Carson Reserve, Shackelford Banks and Fort Macon

Yaupon Tea

YAUPON HOLLY Ilex vomitoria
Yaupon holly is an evergreen shrub that grows wild in coastal areas in well-drained sandy soils, and can be found on the upper edges of brackish and salt marshes, sandy hammocks, coastal sand dunes, inner-dune depressions, sandhills, maritime forests, nontidal forested wetlands, well-drained forests and pine flatwoods. The fruit are an important food for many birds

This Plant is the Indian Tea, us’d and approv’d by all the Savages on the Coast of Carolina, and from them sent to the Westward Indians, and sold at a considerable Price. All which they cure after the same way, as they do for themselves; which is thus: They take this Plant (not only the Leaves, but the smaller Twigs along with them) and bruise it in a Mortar, till it becomes blackish, the Leaf being wholly defaced: Then they take it out, put it into one of their earthen Pots which is over the Fire, till it smoaks; stirring it all the time, till it is cur’d. Others take it, after it is bruis’d, and put it into a Bowl, to which they put live Coals, and cover them with the Yaupon, till they have done smoaking, often turning them over. After all, theyspread it upon their Mats, and dry it in the Sun to keep it for Use.

The Spaniards in New-Spain have this Plant very plentifully on the Coast of Florida, and hold it in great Esteem. Sometimes they cure it as the Indians do; or else beat it to a Powder, so mix it, as Coffee; yet before they drink it, they filter the same. They prefer it above all Liquids, to drink with Physick, to carry the same safely and speedily thro’ the Passages, for which it is admirable, as I myself have experimented.
YAUPON TEA - "Black Drink"
The tea-like liquid was used by the Coree and Poteskeets Indians tribes of the Outer Banks as a sacred drink for rituals and ceremonies. The Native Americans believed it purified the drinker and purged him of anger and falsehoods.  "Black drink" was prepared by special village officials and served in large communal cups, frequently made of whelk shell. The men in council were served in order of precedence, starting with important visitors. They consumed large quantities at a sitting. Afterward, they purged themselves by vomiting.

The tea was consumed during the daily deliberations of the village councils and at all other important council meetings. It was shared with former foes when making peace and with visitors to show friendship. Since used for peaceful purposes and purification, Indians called it "white drink." To settlers it was "cassina" or "black drink," because of the tea's dark color.

Yaupon tea has properties similar to those of Asian tea and American coffee, including caffeine. The parched leaves and stems were dried out in hollow cypress stumps (or logs) and stored.

Early settlers used this mildly bitter-tasting caffeine beverage as a tea substitute. Folks in the Outer Banks area continued to use it, especially when times were hard--during war-time, the Depression, etc. when regular tea or coffee was hard to come by. Kinnakeet became the yaupon-producing region of the Outer Banks and exported it to cities north. It was also introduced in some European countries--continuing as late as the early- to mid-1800′s. Banks residents continued to use it until the mid-1900′s.

Yaupon tea is still enjoyed by some long-time residents of remote coastal areas. This recipe below is from Mr. Ira Lewis, Harkers Island, NC, courtesy the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center.


LEAF PREPARATION: Strip the outer, small leaves of the branch. Chop leaves & twigs with hatchet removing any larger twigs.To parch: Heat leaves in medium-to-hot (400 degres) oven in a dry skillet or pan, turning often for about 15 minutes or until leaves turn to light – medium brown color. If leaves start to smoke, remove from heat immediatly. Remove form oven to cool.

BREWING STAGE: Add one cup yaupon leaves to 1 to 1 ‡ quarts boiling water. Cook on low boil until water turns dark amber in color. Remove from heat and strain the mixture into another heat-resistant pitcher. Brewed leaves may be discarded, or used again for a smaller, weaker quantity of tea. Add sugar and/or lemon before chilling. Can be drunk hot or cold. Milk may be added to the hot mixture – much like you would drink coffee.