Ilex Vomitoria Ait. (Yaupon): A Native North American Source of a Caffeinated and Antioxidant-Rich Tea

Abstract

Ilex Vomitoria Ait. (Yaupon): A Native North American Source of a Caffeinated and Antioxidant-Rich Tea. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria Ait.) is a caffeine-containing shrub native to the southeastern United States where its leaves and twigs were traditionally used to prepare a stimulating and healthful beverage by Amerindians and more recent colonists. For a variety of mostly socioeconomic and cultural reasons, widespread consumption of yaupon tea ceased by the late 19th century, but the species is widely used in ornamental horticulture. Given the environmental damage associated with other caffeine crops, we believe that disuse of this species is unfortunate, and we report on traits that consumers may consider valuable. We found that total foliar biomass, caffeine, and antioxidant production all increased with nitrogen fertilization in one common ornamental yaupon cultivar, ‘Nana.’ Increasing light availability was associated with increased antioxidant activity but not with the decreased caffeine production predicted by the carbon/nutrient balance hypothesis for secondary metabolite production. We also found the highest caffeine concentrations in another yaupon cultivar, ‘Pendula,’ but suggest that the wide range of chemical variation offered by wild-type yaupon populations renders them more suitable as sources for the development of high caffeine-producing varieties. The results of this study suggest that yaupon is a viable caffeine alternative for North Americans living within its range on the southeastern coastal plain.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Isabel Meister for help in the field and Michelle Mack and Rick Stepp for useful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. We also thank Paulo Brando for help with the statistics and Youngmok Kim and Jorgé Cardona for assistance with the second round of caffeine assays. This study was funded in part by a grant from the Robert B. Ragland Environmental Foundation.

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Correspondence to Matthew J. Palumbo.

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Palumbo, M.J., Talcott, S.T. & Putz, F.E. Ilex Vomitoria Ait. (Yaupon): A Native North American Source of a Caffeinated and Antioxidant-Rich Tea. Econ Bot 63, 130–137 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12231-009-9078-3

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Key Words

  • Carbon/nutrient balance hypothesis
  • cassina
  • phenolics