Yaupon Holly as a Coffee Substitute
DISCLAIMER: Don’t believe anything I or anybody else tells you about edible wild plants. Don’t eat edible wild plants based on what you see in a book or on the inter-net. Get a qualified instructor to show you the plants, and don’t eat them until the instructor shows you how to prepare them, and then eats them him or herself. Be aware that you may be allergic to a plant that someone else can eat without harm. Be sure that any plants that you gather have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
Coffee was a highly valued commodity on the American frontier, and it wasn’t always available. Frontiersmen tried many different concoctions as substitutes for coffee. Roasted and ground dandelion root was used. Chicory root was widely used in the Southern United States, in fact it is common to add chicory to coffee in Louisiana even today. I have read that some people even roasted and ground okra seeds to make a coffee substitute. None of these taste much like coffee, and more importantly, none of them have any caffeine. My old survival mentor was a caffeine freak. He had to have his buzz. So when we were having one of our living off the land outings he made a coffee substitute out of Yaupon Holly which he said was our only native plant in East Texas that contained caffeine.
I don’t know for a fact that Yaupon is the only native plant with caffeine, but it does indeed have caffeine. In fact it has more caffeine pound for pound than coffee. Yaupon Holly is pretty easy to identify, especially in the winter when it is one of the few green shrubs in the forest. Yaupon is a shrub. I have rarely seen one that was over eight feet tall.
It has small oval leaves that are about an inch to two inches long. The leaves are lightly lobed along the edge and they grow in a random pattern along the branches. They are not neatly opposite each other, or neatly alternating; they are just random.
In the fall and early winter the female plants are covered with red berries. Don’t eat the berries or get them mixed in with your tea leaves.