Native American Uses of Yaupon

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Native American Uses of Yaupon

By: CatSpring Yaupon

Did you know that Yaupon was consumed by Native Americans? Because of its widespread presence throughout the Gulf Coastal region of the US, most Native American tribes had a Yaupon tradition.

We know that yaupon has been recorded to have been consumed by many tribes of the Southeast and trans Mississippi south in political, religious, and social contexts. Lack of historical documentation for most of these tribes makes it difficult to claim with certainty how prevalent consumption was.


The most well documented yaupon usage is that of the Creek Confederacy that dominated the Southeast. The earliest known reference was from Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca while traveling along the coast of Texas in 1542.




Another early account was from John Lawson - who records drinking yaupon himself - in his book A New Voyage to Carolina, printed in 1709. According to Lawson, yaupon was used by the Native Americans of the Carolina coast, and they “bore this plant in veneration above all the plants they are acquainted with.” It was used for rituals and ceremonies, village councils, and other important meetings. It was also used as a social drink and to show friendship. Cups made of whelk, a sea snail whose shells are found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, were frequently used, and, among some groups, were served to the men in descending order of importance.


Ceremonies in which large quantities were consumed were followed by vomiting.  Western thinking has held the idea that vomiting was an indication of illness or having consumed something poisonous. In contrast, Native American tribes practiced purification of their spirit and their bodies, vomiting was an acquired habit and routinely employed. Throughout the Southeast, yaupon was a symbol of purity and used for peaceful purposes; therefore, some Native Americans in this region referred to the tea as “white drink” because it signified health and peace.

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