Ilex vomitoria

Ilex vomitoria

I have a yaupon tree in my backyard. Today I picked its leaves, roasted them, boiled them, and drank the tea that was produced. The Karankawa, the Gulf Coast Native Americans I study, regularly did the same a couple hundred years ago.

Some folks believe this yaupon tea is the same beverage consumed during the Karankawas male-only purification ceremonies in which puking was standard fare. As one writer describes, “warriors poured vast amounts of this vile liquor down their throats until they began to sweat profusely and vomit.” With the yaupon holly having the scientific name Ilex vomitoria, the tea does seem like a natural contender in inducing vomitting. Fortunately, my stomach and I had no such experience.

Yaupon is the only tree native to Texas that naturally produces caffeine and the tea made with its leaves provides about as much punch as a small cup of coffee. It isn’t something that should ever make you hurl. Alice Oliver, in Albert Gatschet’s history of the Karankawa, witnessed a band of Karankawa drinking this beverage and it “never seemed to produce any visible effect upon the Indians.” Cabeza de Vaca, who also observed the brewing of this type of tea, makes no mention of it causing vomiting in his narrative, only that the men spit out the drink if a woman moved during the ceremony. Even Gaspar de Solis, in his notoriously biased account of the Karankawa, makes no remark of yaupon tea causing vomiting. Instead, I believe that another beverage, one that was limited to these purification ceremonies and consisted of different ingredients, is probably the drink with the emetic properties. Continue reading “Ilex vomitoria”