Ilex vomitoria (yaupon holly)

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Painting by Christine Andreae

Artist’s Statement:

The yaupon holly is a southern shrub which Lucy would have encountered during her years in Georgia with her second husband, Captain John Marks. It was known as Cherokee black drink or Indian black drink and used in Native American purification ceremonies. I worked from a dried specimen and photographs provided by our project’s pharmacology consultant, Dr. Wendell Combest. Dr. Combest collected the specimens in central Mississippi.

I wanted to give this pretty, but modest-looking, plant a spiritual aura, so I made a tea from the dried leaves and used it to create a halo effect around my watercolor of a small, life-sized branch. I steeped the dried yaupon leaves in hot water and after a day in the sun, the result was a very black tea that yielded an interesting greenish-black wash. To suggest spiritual renewal, I depicted my sprig in a spring blooming phase with delicate, almost transparent, new leaves unfolding at the top.

Medicinal Uses:

Yaupon holly was mentioned by 18th century botanist Mark Catesby’s in his opus Natural History, a book Thomas Jefferson bought in 1783 for ten guineas. (Jefferson later sold it to the new Library of Congress, but his copy was destroyed in an 1851 fire.) Catesby described yaupon as “an emetick Broth” which “restores the Appetite and strengthens the Stomach.” (Blanton, p.147) It was widely used by several groups of native Americans in the Southeastern U.S. for religious, social, and medicinal purposes.

Although used as a purgative (as indicated by its Latin name), a major active ingredient in yaupon holly leaf is caffeine – which might account for Catesby’s description of it as an appetite stimulant. It is believed to have been used in certain regions of the South as a coffee substitute during the Civil War when coffee supplies were scarce. It is thought to be the only indigenous holly species in the United States that contains caffeine. Dr. Combest theorizes that the vomiting effect of the tea, which was drunk in large quantities, was likely caused by the high dose of caffeine.