‘Holly-day’ drink was really one to (yau)ponder

Sometimes you can be too much of a smart-alec for your own good. It’s not like this is a new experience for me.

Two weeks ago for The Reporter’s lifestyle page I spent an enjoyable afternoon driving around and photographing our area’s abundant fall foliage.

The idea of doing that each fall has been attractive to me ever since, about 20 years ago, I took an autumn trip to Tennessee and North Carolina to see the changing colors.

Which were indeed gorgeous. But then I returned home to an equally colorful, and beautiful, fall in South Milam County.

The other reason, at least in 2012, I was eager to do a fall foliage spread is the headline I thought of.

I think the blazing scarlet yaupon berry is one of the prettiest colors our area produces and so I headlined the story “Once yaupon a time in the autumn.”

Then I blundered onto the intriguing Latin (scientific) name of yaupon, which is ilex vomitoria

Or “holly that makes you throw up.” It seems some of the first settlers saw Native Americans concocting a brew of the plant to make them you-know-what during purifying ceremonies.

So I included that, never thinking that two weeks later I would be drinking yaupon tea.

This morning I got a call from area resident Yvonne Beard. “Would you like to try some?” she asked. “I’ve been drinking yaupon tea for many years. I keep a pitcher in my refrigerator all the time.”

Okay, Mr. Editor, time to put up or shut up. (Another kind of “up” crossed my mind I must admit.)

I told her I’d sure give it a shot and Yvonne came to my office with a Mason jar and what appeared to be a communion cup.

She’s an expert in edible plants, been munching on, and sipping down, the bountiful buffet that is our Texas outdoors for many years.

Yvonne said she feels good, and she certainly looks great. So I poured myself a cup. Okay here we go. Gulp.

She awaited my opinion.

“Well,” I said, searching for the right word “It tastes exactly like, uh, well, like...tea!”

She beamed. “ That’s what everybody says.”

And, in fact, everyone is right. I couldn’t tell the unseasoned, unsweetened yaupon tea from the stuff you buy off the shelves.

I’m not saying a tea expert couldn’t have told you what they were drinking. But the point was, yaupon tea certainly didn’t taste like the plant deserved that nasty name and legacy.

It needs to be pointed out that yaupon tea fanciers use only the leaves, not the berries.

It’s still my understanding that all holly berries are toxic, if not downright poisonous. So, please don’t mess with the berries!

How does she make yaupon tea? Dry and roast the leaves, and steep them in hot water. Just like you would any tea.

Yvonne says the yaupon tea is basically another green tea— green tea is touted as a premier health drink—and is easier on the stomach than many commercially made teas.

She even sells it at crafts fairs and other events.

Yvonne has become quite an expert at gathering edible plants from the South Milam County outdoor bounty and she doesn’t go far to find them. “The wild plants I eat and drink come from my own back yard,” she said.

She gathers, and consumes, such items as chickweed, shepherd’s purse, and henbit. That all goes in a blender and produces a healthy drink.

Yvonne also has eaten polk salad, a southern wild plant so common that’s it’s probably the only “back yard” delicacy I’d ever experienced before my yaupon tea destiny.

As I recall, myself and some of my fellow 11 and 12-year-old members of the East Davilla Athletic and Getting Into Mostly Harmless Mischief Club found a plant growing one morning in the middle of our revered sandlot baseball-football field.

(Our field was sort of, uh, unorganized. Third base was a tree. Did this present problems sliding into third? You bet it did.)

We decided it must be polk salad, so of course we had to eat it. None of us had any idea how to cook the stuff, but My Friend Who Grew Up To Be a Policeman said he thought you had to boil it until it got tender.

So one of us commandeered an old pan from his mom—our moms were used to us asking for weird stuff—and we built a fire in his back yard, put the plant in the water and watched it cook.

We boiled it for, oh, five or six days. It never did get tender. It just went from dry and tough to wet and tough.

Finally, one of my friends said he’d had enough, grabbed it out of the pan, shook it—back to dry and tough—and put it in his mouth.

It slid down his throat without much effort from him. We waited to see if he was going to throw up. He didn’t so we lost interest and went back to sliding into third.

I think Yvonne is having a lot more fun “eating natural” than we ever did.

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2012-12-13 digital edition

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