What Health Benefits Is Yaupon Tea Good for, and Are There Any Side Effects?

  • Medical Reviewer: Mahammad Juber, MD
Medically Reviewed on 12/14/2022

What is yaupon tea? 

Yaupon tea is an herbal drink made by steeping the leaves of the yaupon holly plant. The health benefits of yaupon tea include better energy, better brain function, and reduced cancer risk.
Yaupon tea is an herbal drink made by steeping the leaves of the yaupon holly plant. The health benefits of yaupon tea include better energy, better brain function, and reduced cancer risk.

When you think about caffeinated beverages, what comes to your mind? Most people think of traditional teas and coffee, but you might be surprised to know that even some herbal teas are good sources of caffeine. One example is yaupon tea. 

While originally used by the Native Americans, this tea is becoming popular even among the general public due to the rising interest in locally grown organic foods and drinks. With its unique flavor and powerful medicinal properties, yaupon tea makes a great choice if you're looking for a healthy and refreshing drink.

Yaupon tea is an herbal drink made by steeping the leaves of the yaupon holly plant: an evergreen shrub originally found in the southeastern United States. The most distinctive features of this plant are its berry-like, shiny red drupes — similar to what you find growing on the popular American and Chinese holly plants, which are often used in yards or on holidays as decor.

You may come across many other names for the yaupon plant, such as:

  • Cassine
  • Appalachian
  • Emetic holly
  • South-Sea tea
  • American tea plant
  • Christmas-berry tree

The Native Americans were the first to make yaupon tea. They called it the "white drink" and used it as a ceremonial cleanser — meaning they used it to cause vomiting during purification rituals.

Over time, it became famous as a healthy beverage among the European colonists, who later gave Yaupon the ill-sounding scientific name Ilex vomitoria due to its use in the purging rituals. However, studies have found no emetic (vomiting-inducing) properties in the leaves. 

Today, besides being used as a nourishing herbal tea, yaupon also serves as a common ingredient in skincare products like cleaners, moisturizers, and serums.

What are the nutrients in yaupon tea? 

Just like other herbal teas, yaupon tea contains close to zero macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Still, it's a rich source of various health-boosting phytochemicals like alkaloids and polyphenols.

Among all its alkaloids, caffeine is what yaupon tea is most known for because yaupon is one of the few native North American plants that contain caffeine. While the caffeine content can vary depending on where and how the plant is grown, it's usually between 0.65% and 0.85% of the dry, unprocessed leaves' weight. This is less than the amount present in coffee beans, though. 

Another important alkaloid in yaupon tea is theobromine — a plant-based substance with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Among polyphenols, yaupon tea is a great source of:

  • Rutin
  • Cryptochlorogenic acid
  • Neochlorogenic acid
  • Caffeoylquinic acid
  • Chlorogenic acid

These polyphenols have potent antioxidant and anticancer properties. Moreover, unlike the processing of green tea, the packaging and processing of yaupon typically has very few negative effects on the polyphenols it contains.

What are the health benefits of yaupon tea? 

Research has found several health benefits of yaupon tea, including: 

Improved energy levels. The caffeine content in yaupon tea helps it act as a stimulant that can be used to boost energy levels and fight fatigue. Studies have found that caffeine can increase accuracy and alertness, and when taken with theobromine, it may especially improve your performance while making you less prone to distractions.

Better brain functioning. Yaupon tea is a good source of theobromine — a phytochemical mainly found in cocoa. Several animal studies have found a strong link between theobromine and improved working memory, as well as motor learning skills. There is also evidence that theobromine can help to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in animals. Still, more research is needed to see if the theobromine in yaupon tea has similar effects on human brain activity.   

Reduced risk of cancer. One older study found that the bioactive chemicals in yaupon tea could prevent colon cancer cells from growing. Even certain polyphenols in this tea have shown the potential to reduce inflammation and lower cancer growth.

Are there any side effects of yaupon tea? 

While yaupon tea makes a great addition to most diets, for some, it also poses certain risks. When taken in high amounts, caffeine can cause various health issues. The most common ones are:

More severe side effects of yaupon tea are also seen in some serious cases. These include:

  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Disorientation
  • Cardiac problems 

Experts usually recommend limiting your daily caffeine intake to 400 milligrams. This means you should control your tea intake accordingly. 

Besides coffee, the potential side effects of other ingredients in yaupon tea are not as well-researched. Since most of the studies on this herbal tea are done using test tubes or animal subjects, it's hard to say what effect it would have on your health when taken in normal amounts. 


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Who should avoid having yaupon tea? 

Expecting mothers and breastfeeding women shouldn't have more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day. That is why they may also need to lower their intake of yaupon tea or completely avoid it. 

Due to the presence of caffeine, people with these medical conditions should also limit or avoid having yaupon tea:

  1. Peptic ulcers 
  2. Severe anxiety
  3. Heart disease
  4. Impaired liver function
  5. Improper kidney function 
  6. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

What is the right way to take yaupon tea? 

Yaupon tea can be easily made at home. You can find this herbal tea at various online stores and natural health shops. It's mostly available in these forms: 

  • Light-roast, loose-leaf variety: a mild and nutty flavor
  • Dark-roast, loose-leaf variety: a richer and smokier taste
  • Tea concentrate

If you plan to use fresh yaupon when making your tea, try roasting the leaves in an oven. That gives them a stronger and smokier flavor like that of yerba mate tea. Depending on how strong you want your tea to be, you could steep it for 5 to 10 minutes or longer. 

If you properly steep the leaves, you will get a full-bodied and bitterness-free yaupon tea. It should taste somewhat like a mix of yerba mate tea and black tea.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/14/2022

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Fitoterapia: "Flavonol-rich fractions of yaupon holly leaves (Ilex vomitoria, Aquifoliaceae) induce microRNA-146a and have anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive effects in intestinal myofibroblast CCD-18Co cells."

Food & Nutrition: "Is Caffeinated Tea Growing in Your Backyard?"

HerbalGram: "Yaupon Holly: A North American Plant Source of Caffeine."

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Nutritional Neuroscience: "The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood."

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: "Ritual drinks in the pre-Hispanic US Southwest and Mexican Northwest."

ScienceDircet: "Theobromine."

Theranostics: "Chlorogenic acid effectively treats cancers through induction of cancer cell differentiation."