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Sacred Black Drink of Southeastern Indians is favorite beverage of South America

Yaupon Holly tea, by other names, is the national beverage of many South American countries and was long consumed by indigenous peoples in Eastern Peru, the Amazon Basin and Rio Plata Basin. Apparently, not a soul in the compartmentalized world of North American academia ever figured this out.

Native American Brain Food

Asse is the Creek word for the tea made from Yaupon Holly leaves. Anthropologists call it “the Sacred Black Drink.” Botanists called the Yaupon Holly, ilex vomitoria, because they incorrectly assumed that its consumption would make one vomit. Actually, it was the powdered roots of some other plants that were intentionally added to the tea, which caused purging in certain ceremonies.

The  indigenous provinces of the South Carolina and Georgia coast cultivated Yaupon Holly and traded the dried leaves up the rivers to other peoples. The French Huguenots of Fort Caroline gave us several eyewitness accounts about  this Yaupon Holly trade.  Some tribes on the Georgia coast also grew cinchona trees (quinine) and traded the bark to the interior as a powerful medicine.

Yaupon Holly or ilex vomitoria

The best quality asse came from the fields on Ossabaw Island, south of Savannah. Many sources state that the name of Ossebaw came from the Creek Indian word, Asebo, which means “Place of the Yaupon Holly,” but don’t explain where the “baw” part came from. “Bo” is not a Creek word. In fact, there is not even a B in the Creek alphabet. So where in the world did Asebo come from? You will soon find out.

Over time, the cultivated holly on the coast became feral in many areas of the Southeastern Coastal Plain. Twentieth century botanists didn’t know that Yaupon holly was originally a cultivated crop on the South Atlantic Coast, and therefore assumed that it was merely an indigenous variety of holly – maybe yes, probably not.

The only location other than the Southeastern United States where the Yaupon Holly grows wild today is in the portion of the Chiapas Highlands near the Maya city of Palenque. In 2012, scientists at the University of Minnesota determined that the Maya Blue at Palenque was made from attapulgite mined in the State of Georgia.  See the map at the end of the article.

Hm-m-m . . . which means that the Itza Mayas, whom certain archaeologists know for a fact didn’t come to Georgia, took a liking to Yaupon Holly tea while they were not in the Peach State and transported the Yaupon Holly seeds back to Chiapas.

Now . . . take a vacation down in the eastern foothills of the Peruvian Andes. This beautiful region looks just like the Southern Appalachians. You might stay first in the charming city of Satipo.

Does that Peruvian city’s name sound familiar? Satipo was the name of the capital of the Sati-le Province on the Satilla River in Southeast Georgia, visited by Captain René de Laudonnière in 1564 & 1565 . It was also the name of a town at the confluence of the Little Tennessee River and Citigo Creek in extreme eastern Tennessee, visited by Captain Juan Pardo in 1567.

Sati means “colonists” in several Peruvian languages.  Sati was also the actual name of the tribe in South Carolina that the English colonists called the Santee.   Not being aware that Sati is a Peruvian word, South Carolina anthropologists arbitrarily  labeled them “Siouans” without ever trying to translate a single word of their language.   They probably were the same ethnic group as the Georgia Sati.  Lake Santeetlah in extreme western North Carolina gets its name from this people and is also near the site of Satipo.

Po is the Spanish pronunciation of the Panoan suffix, “bo” which means “place of”  . . . as in Asebo (Ossabaw) Island in Georgia.  Satipo, actually Satibo, means “Place of the Colonists.”   What are such Peruvian words doing on the coast of Georgia and the Great Smoky Mountains?

Go into a neighborhood restaurant in Satipo, Peru. Ask the waitress:
¿Podría tener una taza de asé?   Could I have a cup of Yaupon Holly tea.

Of course, she would think that you were a crazy Gringo, but no . . . she will answer:
Por supuesto, ¿quieres caliente o frío?   Of course, do you want it hot or cold?  After Jimmy Carter visited here, ice tea quickly became popular.

Would you believe that the word for Yaupon holly tea is the same in the Panoan languages of Eastern Peru and Upper Amazon Basin in Brazil as it is in the Muskogean languages?  Yaupon Holly tea is a popular beverage in that region.  Actually, the holly plant in eastern Peru has a different scientific name, but no one has ever thought of comparing to the Yaupon to see if they are related or even the same plant.

Now look around at the locals. They are Conibo People. You will notice that the traditional patterns on their beautiful clothing are identical to the patterns on the Swift Creek pottery of Georgia. Their chiefs wear turbans identical to those worn by the Seminole and Miccosukee in Florida. Could there be a connection?

Yerba mate

South of Peru, the beverage made from holly leaves is usually labeled by its Spanish name, Yerba mate.  Yerba Mate is a hybrid of the archaic word for herb in Spanish with the Quechua word for gourd. It means “Herb drink that one drinks from a gourd.”

Ilex_paraguariensisThe variety of holly used for commercial cultivation was developed from a wild variety growing in Paraquay. Yerba Mate was first popular with the Guarani people of Paraquay and then spread to their cousins, the Tupi People of Brazil.

When you see photos or films of South Americans sipping a beverage from a gourd shaped container with a silver tube, that is yerba mate. The holly from Paraquay is considered to have a sweeter and smoother flavor than the holly cultivated farther north by the Panoan peoples. However, chemically there is little difference between yerba mate, the asé drunk in Peru and the Amazon Basin or the asse drunk by Southeastern Native Americans. All three contain beneficial chemicals that inhibit diabetes and arterial diseases, plus antioxidants that aid immunity.

Yerba mate is traditionally consumed in gourds with Indigenous motifs on them.

Yerba mate is traditionally consumed in gourds with Indigenous motifs on them.

There is also a connection between the South Atlantic Coast of South America and the South Atlantic Coast of North America. Guale was the Spanish province that stretched from the Altamaha River to the Ogeechee River on the Georgia coast. All references state that the Guale People were Muskogeans. That is because the first anthropologist, who made that dumb statement didn’t know the Creek languages, while those who parroted him afterward either also didn’t know the Creek languages or else were afraid of being ostracized for questioning that orthodoxy.

Guale is the Spanish spelling of the Muskogean pronunciation of Wari, the Tupi Guarani word for “Boat People” or “Sea People” Virtually all the village names in this region, recorded by early French and Spanish explorers are Tupi-Guarani words and have no meaning in the Muskogean languages. The two main towns in Wari were Tupika’a and Takatakuro, names that would be readily understood by Native peoples in Paraquay and Brazil today. Ka’a is the Tupi word for the Sacred Black Drink or Yerba Mate.

The Wari, encountered by the Spanish, had Itza Maya political titles, which Gringo anthropologists of the 20th century assumed to be Creek words. The reason for these foreign political titles was that they were formerly under the domination of a powerful Itza province, based where Savannah is today. If readers can recall an earlier article on the original Migration Legend of the Creek People, it was stated to the founders of the Georgia Colony by Itsate and Apalache Creek leaders that their ancestors first lived at Savannah.

Commercial potential for Yaupon Holly cultivation

Since Yaupon Holly was originally a plant cultivated on the coastal islands of Georgia, it obviously could be cultivated in the Coastal Plain again. Asian tea is actually a member of the Holly family. Asian tea is already being cultivated on the South Atlantic Coast and winning blue ribbons in Europe for its exceptional quality.

It seems quite probable that botanists could hybridize Yaupon Holly with the Paraguayan Holly, whose flavor is preferred by most South Americans.  That plant would produce a commercial Holly tea suitable for domestic consumption and export.

The Yaupon Hollies of the Southeast and their cousins in the Upper Amazon Basin are much more resistant to insect pests and fungal diseases than the Paraguayan Holly. Native American tribes along the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains should seriously consider hybrid Yaupon Holly cultivation as a strategy for economic development.





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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    First thing that comes to mind when thinking about hybridizing the plant is that may not be all there is to it. It would be interesting to examine the typical relationships the plant has with other plants and animals in its native range. Mapping the area where the best flavor is expressed through the plant and making observations. Taking as an example Biodynamic wine cultivation (basic explanation here:, we have found over time that there is a relationship to the flavor expression in our cultivated plant based on those relationships along with the type of soil and its microbial community in the geomorphology of that place. Not that those are the only factors but I thought I would bring in the whole spectrum of the biological community for consideration rather than the typical concept we are accustomed to today, that of merely manipulating the plant. The “preps” on the Biodynamic wine wiki should be considered in analog to those interspecies relationships we observe about the Asse community in situ. Look forward to hearing your thoughts and reflections on this and thank you for this post!

    • Bio-genetics is outside my expertise. You obviously know more than me. Well . . . in my past, I was US SCS Farmer of the Year, but my specialty was growing high protein hay and alfalfa for my goat cheese creamery . . . on the other hand the magic biochar terrace garden is quite productive.

      The fact that Yaupon Holly has been developed into an ornamental that will thrive in the lower half of the United States, makes me think that it has quite a lot of genetic diversity to play with. It’s flavor may not be that inferior to the Paraguayan holly. Perhaps agronomists in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, who work with the commercial holly farms should be brought into the endeavor.

      Thanks for writing us.


        Makes me wonder what the governmental and agricultural/educational structures are in those countries. Someone could do a search for academic articles on that plant.
        Google Scholar maybe? Are there any special journals for that industry? What Universities are in those countries? I do not have those language capabilities to read their scholarship if it is in anything other than English. Then again, perhaps those documents are not online?

        You are welcome and yes, I am thrilled to see all these really interesting articles. Thank you all for writing them.


            Have you come across anything on the plant being “scientifically classified by the Swiss botanist Moses Bertoni, who settled in Paraguay in 1895?”

          • From what I can tell Christine, the Paraguayan holly received considerable attention from Latin American botanists when it was domesticated and adapted to other climates in South America. Botanists created special varieties of the original wild plant for growing in Brazil and Argentina. I don’t know enough about the subject to tell you how similar the cultivated plant is to the wild plant in appearance.

            I could find absolutely nothing about studies of the hollies growing in the Amazon Basin and eastern Peru. The Yaupon Holly has been domesticated as a ornamental shrub that will grow as far north (at least) as Virginia.

          • This particular mountain range In Argentina sounds VERY similar to the Southern Appalachians. It makes me wonder if the Paraguayan Holly could be grown in the Appalachians or if one of the other native hollies in the Appalachians is related to the Paraguayan one.


    tea sounds good to me, .. market it and I will place an order.


    very interesting. evidently the holly berries were not carried up into central Alabama & most certainly not to East Texas, SE &SW Oklahoma where the Cahaba Creeks. The “black tea” there is made from Tamarind. the bean pods have shell/pod skin removed & steeped or even “biled” pulp & seeds both. many of the older rural mestizos & full bloods grew the plants in their often poultry years. Over the decades, many of those who are younger or acculturated have lost much of the tribes’ traditions, confused Tamarind with tamracks or tamirisks and “tabernacle bushes”. a dangerous confusion. We now just buy the beans from mercados, rather that growing them. There is even a Mexican pop, tamrindo, good but far removed in taste or quality effects from home brewed tamarind “black tea”.

    • That’s very interesting. Apparently, ornamental Yaupon trees and bushes have been developed that can stand the weather as far north as Virginia.


    A very interesting article about this kind of Holly plant. I do believe it looks like a similar plant that is outside my door. Does this get white flowers on it? Right now it is filled berries, where the flowers were and they died. Now I live out in Ca., so could it be the ornamental variety?

    • It’s hard to say. There are several types of wild holly trees and bushes in North America. The ones planted as landscaping are usually selectively modified varieties. Most species of wild hollies grow into smallish trees, which would be unsuitable for residential shrubbery. I have several beautiful wild holly trees around my cabin. They have white flowers in the spring and red berries in the autumn. The hollies stand out in the winter time, especially in the snow, because they are evergreens.


    We cut over 80 acres of pine and a variety of holly has flourished. Does the yaupon have thorns?

    • Sorry that I missed your comment. The yaupon holly does not have thorns. If you have a personal question Dave, send it straight to me via email. I am not the administrator of this website.


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