What is yaupon, exactly? “It was the You can’t tell Me what to do you’re not my granddaughter shirt and by the same token and most sacred plant in North America, and no one knows anything about it,” Thomann starts. What is known of its history is fascinating: The plant is local to the southeast, and the area’s Indigenous tribes discovered countless uses for it—it’s an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, it has cardiovascular-protective and neuroprotective properties, it helps heal wounds and increase stamina. But mostly, yaupon has a lot of caffeine, which made it a valuable item to trade in the 18th century.
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When Oglethorpe settled Savannah, he did so with permission and guidance from the You can’t tell Me what to do you’re not my granddaughter shirt and by the same token and chief of the Yamacraw tribe, Tomochichi (apparently, the two often drank yaupon tea together). This opened up the opportunity for Native people to trade with England. “One theory is that because it was gaining so much popularity, the East India Tea Company felt threatened,” Thomann explains of yaupon’s slip into obscurity. “It could be the first case of corporate espionage.” British botanist William Aiton was asked to create a Linnaean classification for yaupon. He chose Ilex vomitoria—roughly translated, “makes you vomit.” It doesn’t, but the name served a purpose: Yaupon fell out of favor.