The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Ilex cassine Walter


Cassina Tree




Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family);174 Iliceae Tribe

Forms and Subspecies


Three varieties and one form are botanically accepted (Galle 1997, 165f.):

Ilex cassine L. var. cassine

Ilex cassine L. var. angustifolia Ait.

Ilex cassine L. var. mexicana (Turcz.) Black

Ilex cassine L. f. aureo-bractea


The myrtle-leaf holly (Ilex myrtifolia Walt.), which is found in Florida, is sometimes regarded as a unique species, and occasionally as a variety of Ilex cassineIlex cassine var. myrtifolia Walt. (Bell and Taylor 1982, 75).



Ageria germinata Raf.

Ageria heterophylla Raf.

Ageria obovata Raf.

Ageria palustris Raf.

Aquifolium carolinesse Cat. et Duh.

Ilex aquifolium carolinianum Duh. (= I. cassine var. angustifolia)

Ilex cassinaefolia Loes.

Ilex cassene L.

Ilex cassine [alpha] L.

Ilex cassine corymbosia W.T. Mill.

Ilex cassine L. f. glabra Loes. (= I. cassine var. mexicana)

Ilex cassine L. f. hirtella Loes. (= I. cassine var. mexicana)

Ilex cassine var. latifolia Ait.

Ilex cassinoides Link (= I. cassine var. angustifolia)

Ilex cassinoides Du Mont (= I. cassine var. angustifolia)

Ilex castaneifolia Hort. ex Loes.

Ilex chinensis DC.

Ilex dahoon Walt.

Ilex dahoon var. angustifolia (Willd.) Torr. et Gray (= I. cassine var. angustifolia)

Ilex dahoon var. grandiflora Koch

Ilex dahoon var. laurifolia (Nutt.) Nutt.

Ilex dahoon var. ligustrum (Ell.) Woods (= I. cassine var. angustifolia)

Ilex lanceolata Griseb.

Ilex ligustrina Elliot (= I. cassine var. angustifolia)

Ilex mexicana (Turcz.) Black (= I. cassine var. mexicana)

Ilex phillyreifolia Hort. ex Dippel

Ilex prinoides Willd.

Ilex ramulosa Raf.

Ilex watsoniana Spach (= I. cassine var. angustifolia)

Pilostegia mexicana Turcz. (= I. cassine var. mexicana)

Prinos cassinoides Hort. ex Steudel

Folk Names


Black drink plant, cassena,175 cassiana, cassina, cassinabaum, cassina tree, cassine, dahoon, dahoon holly, dahoon-holly, dahoon plant, holly-ilex, southern yaupon, yaupon, yupon


The fruits of the cassina tree (Ilex cassine), a native of the southern region of North America, are red berries. (Photographed in Florida)



The Ilex species that are used in North America to prepare the “black drink” are often confused with the closely related holly (Ilex aquifolium).


“The ‘black drink,’ or cassina, has a stimulating effect as a result of its high caffeine content. The drink was made and used in large areas of the Southeast and beyond as far as Texas. The use occurred in a strict ritual framework and was limited to high-ranking males. Its emetic effects, which the literature often treats as a curiosity, were understood as an inner cleansing and preparation for contact with the spiritual world.”








This plant was sacred to the Indians of Florida and the East Coast of North America and was used in the same manner as Ilex vomitoria to produce the “black drink” (Galle 1997, 165; Millspaugh 1974, 416*). The leaves were traded over long distances (Havard 1896, 40*).

Ilex cassine and Ilex vomitoria are still confused with one another today. Yet both can be easily distinguished from one another on the basis of their morphology and geographical distribution. The two species have sometimes been regarded as synonymous, which is inaccurate. Of course, the confusion has only been increased by the fact that Indians used the two plants in an almost identical manner, so that ethnographers did not make a distinction between the two.



This North American Ilex species is indigenous to the margins of swamps and waterways. It usually is found near the coast and occurs in Virginia, Florida, and the Gulf Coast as far as the Colorado River (Texas). The variety mexicana is found in Mexico.



Unknown; presumably from seed



This heavily branched tree can grow as tall as 8 meters and develops a projecting crown. The leaves are 6 to 10 cm long, lanceolate, tapered at the ends, and shiny on the upper surface. They are considerably longer and more narrow than the leaves of Ilex vomitoria. The fruits of Ilex cassine are luminously red and are more solitary that those of Ilex vomitoria, which are borne in thick clusters on the branches.

Cassina is often confused with holly (Ilex aquifolium L.,176 which occurs in many varieties), especially in the ethnological literature.

Psychoactive Material



Preparation and Dosage


The fresh leaves are boiled in water (for at least ten minutes) until a black decoction has been produced. This tea is known as the “black drink” (cf. Ilex vomitoria).

A more potent preparation requires additional time: The leaves are first roasted and then boiled in water for at least half an hour. The decoction should be stirred well and/or poured into a different vessel repeatedly until it becomes foamy (Havard 1896, 40*). The taste of the black drink is slightly reminiscent of that of oolong tea (see Camellia sinensis).

Particularly potent versions of the drink were made for rituals and festivals, and various herbs and roots were added to potentiate and/or alter its effects. For example, plants that would induce vomiting—button snakeroot (Eryngium aquaticum L.), Iris versicolor L., and lobelia (Lobelia inflata)—were added. The participants in these rituals would often vomit violently, an act that was regarded as a ritual purification (Havard 1896, 41*).

Sometimes fermenting agents were added to the black drink. In such cases, the drink had inebriating as well as potent stimulant effects (Havard 1896, 41f.*). Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacumNicotiana spp.) was a less common additive (Waldman 1985, 63*).

Ritual Use


The tribes of the coastal areas from the Carolinas to Florida and Texas, as well as inland tribes on both sides of the Mississippi, used cassina in the form of the black drink in such important annual ceremonies as the Green Corn Festival (also known as the Busk Ritual). The focus of this festival was the renewal of the world during the continually recurring passage of the year (Waldman 1985, 63*). Participants drank great quantities of the drink as part of this ritual’s events. Sometimes only the men were allowed to partake of the black drink (Millspaugh 1974, 416*).

“The leaves of the Ilex cassine tree were the primary ingredient of the renowned ‘black drink’ of the Indians of the Southeast. This drink induced immediate vomiting. It was generally used in the context of purification rituals, especially those that took place prior to war parties. The Creek used this emetic in almost all of their religious ceremonies.”






(1977, 84*)


At the tribal festivals of the Apalachicola tribe, copious amounts of black drink were offered in and consumed from large snail shells (Busycon spp.). Participants also smoked enormous amounts of tobacco (Nicotiana rustica).

For more on ritual uses, see Ilex vomitoria, the use of which was very similar to that of Ilex cassine.



In Florida and elsewhere, the large, sinistrorse shells of the sea snail Busycon contrarium Conrad were used as drinking vessels for the cassina drink (cf. Moore 1921). Some of these shells were engraved with markings representing mythical or shamanic beings.

Medicinal Use


The decoction was used primarily as an emetic (Millspaugh 1974, 416*). The Cherokee, Alabama, Creek, and Natchez tribes used a decoction of the leaves and young shoots to induce vomiting, for urinary problems (gravel), as a sudorific, for dropsy, and for purification (including “moral”) (Moerman 1986, 232*).



The leaves contain 0.27 to 0.32% caffeine (Havard 1896, 40*), along with a tanning agent and perhaps other substances. More recent data indicate that the leaves contain not caffeine but, more likely, theobromine (an important active principle in Theobroma cacao). Cyanidin-3-xylosylglucoside is present in the fruits (Alikaridis 1987, 126).



Because of its caffeine content, the black drink has both stimulating and strongly diuretic effects (Havard 1896, 41*). Higher dosages (to which individuals have varying responses) can induce vomiting. When additional substances were added to the drink to promote fermentation, the primary effects were certainly alcoholic, although it is likely that a person would not fall asleep as quickly as with other alcoholic beverages. The addition of lobelia (cf. Lobelia inflata) or tobacco (cf. Nicotiana spp.) substantially increased the psycho-active and emetic effects.


Native Americans used the large shell of the sea snail Busycon contrarium as a drinking vessel for consuming the cassina drink. (From Moore, “Notes on Shell Implements from Florida,” 1921)



Ilex Species Used in the Production of Stimulating Drinks


The genus Ilex consists of some four hundred to six hundred species that are found throughout the world, although they are concentrated in South America and Asia. Caffeoylquinic acid has been found in fifteen species. Purines occur in nineteen species. Many species containcaffeine and are or were used to produce stimulating beverages (Hartwich 1911, 452*).




The red fruits are said to be toxic to humans. Detailed information about such toxic effects is lacking.

Commercial Forms and Regulations




A blooming branch of the maté bush (Ilex paraguariensis).




See also the entries for Ilex guayusaIlex paraguariensisIlex vomitoria, and caffeine.


Alikaridis, F. 1987. Natural constituents of Ilex species. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 20:121–44.


Bell, C. Ritchie, and Bryan J. Taylor. 1982. Florida wild flowers and roadside plants. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Laurel Hill Press.


Galle, Fred C. 1997. Hollies. The genus Ilex. Portland, Ore.: Timber Press.


Hale, E. M. 1891. Ilex Cassine, the aboriginal North American tea. USDA Division of Botany Bulletin, no. 14.


Hu, Shiu-Ying. 1949. The genus Ilex in China. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 30:341 ff.


Hudson, Charles, ed. 1979. Black drink. A Native American tea. Athens: University of Georgia Press.


Hume, H. Harold. 1953. Hollies. New York: Macmillan.


Moore, Clarence B. 1921. Notes on shell implements from Florida. American Anthropologist, n.s., 23:12–18.


Ilex guayusa Loesener






Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family); Iliceae Tribe

Forms and Subspecies


Native Americans make a distinction between a wild form and the cultivated plant. Apart from this, no varieties or other forms have been described to date. It has been suggested that Ilex guayusa is a cultivated form of Ilex paraguariensis (Shemluck 1979, 156).



Ilex guayusa Loesener emend. Shemluck Ilex guayusa var. utilis Moldenke

Folk Names


Aguayusa, guañusa, guayupa, guayusa,177 guayúsa, guayusa holly, guayyusa, huayusa, kopíniak (Záparo), rainforest holly, wais (Shuar), wayus (Achuar), wayusa, weisa (Jíbaro)

In Peru, the pepper plant Piper callosum Ruíz et Pav., which continues to enjoy great ethno-medicinal significance, is known in the local language as huayusa.



The ritual use of guayusa (whose name is a Quechuan word) in South America is very ancient.

In Niño Korin (Bolivia), carefully wrapped leaves that had served as grave goods and were radiocarbon-dated to 355 C.E. were discovered. Chemical analyses revealed that the leaves still contained caffeine. The guayusa leaves were found together with paraphernalia for using snuff powder and devices for administering enemas. It is uncertain, however, whether the leaves were used in the making of stimulating snuffs or psycho-active enemas (Schultes 1972, 115 f.; Wassén 1972, 29). As early as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Jesuits and other missionaries were suggesting that the plant was used for psychoactive and medicinal purposes (Schultes 1972, 126 ff.) It is possible that the use of guayusa was much more widespread in pre-Columbian America than it is today. It appears as though the great demand for the plant led to its large-scale cultivation (Schultes 1979, 144 f.).

The English botanist Richard Spruce (1817– 1893) made a precise record of the use of guayusa but surprisingly neglected to collect any botanical material (Schultes 1972, 120). The plant was first described in the early twentieth century (Loesener 1901). Even today, little is known about it, and much ethnopharmacological research remains to be done.

“The jungle Indians, for example, ingested guayusa as an emetic. The pot of guayusa, in which the leaves and water were transformed into a greenish brew, was always simmering. The drink caused anyone who partook of it to vomit out all of the food that had not been digested during the night. In this manner, they practiced medicine according to a primitive Hippocratic principle.”








Guayusa occurs only in the tropical rain forests of the western Amazon region, chiefly in Ecuador, but also in northeastern Peru and southwestern Colombia (Schultes 1979, 144).



Propagation occurs only with cuttings that are grown in house gardens or in small plantations.



This evergreen tree grows to a height of some 15 meters and is able to develop a very thick trunk (Patiño 1968, 314). The oval leaves are alternate and attenuate and grow to a length of 2.5 to 4.5 cm. The flowers grow in clusters from the leaf stalk axils (Shemluck 1979). Cultivated plants never produce flowers. After the initial description by Richard Spruce, more than one hundred years passed before a botanist, Homer Pinkley, was able to actually observe a guayusa flower. He reported that the flowers grow directly out of the trunk of the tree, are smaller than 3 cm in size, resemble a small bowl, and are pale yellow in color (Schultes 1972, 120 f.).

Ilex guayusa is very easily confused with Ilex paraguariensis as well as with other Ilex species (Shemluck 1979, 158).

Psychoactive Material




A report from the colonial period describes how the Indians would drink preparations of tripiliponi, a similar plant with somewhat larger leaves and less stimulating effects, together with lime or orange juice as a substitute for guayusa. Unfortunately, it has not yet been possible to determine the botanical identity of the tripiliponi plant (Patiño 1968, 311).

Preparation and Dosage


The plucked leaves are threaded onto a string and hung to dry either in the sun or in the house. The dried leaves are then boiled over low heat for at least ten minutes but preferably for half or even an entire hour.

Five leaves is often given as the dosage for one cup of tea (Schultes 1972, 132). A chemical analysis of a guayusa drink prepared by the Jíbaro (Achuar) revealed that it contained 3.3% caffeine. Each morning the men consume an average of 2.2 liters of the beverage. Most of them vomit half of this after some forty-five minutes. As a result, they ingest approximately 690 mg of caffeine, the equivalent of about eight cups of coffee (Coffea arabica) (Lewis et al. 1991, 25).

The Jíbaro often boil the leaves for hours or even overnight (Schultes 1972, 129). Although only the men of the Jíbaro are allowed to make guayusa (they call the tea wayus), the women and children also drink the decoction. The Jíbaro even give their dogs some of the tea before they go hunting so that they may better “see.”


These Ilex guayusa leaves from Ecuador are rich in caffeine.


Ritual Use


Because there is almost no evidence apart from that which has been found in graves, we can only conjecture about the pre-Columbian use of guayusa leaves in South America. However, a find of leaves in the grave of a shaman of the Tiahuanaco culture in Bolivia demonstrates that the leaves were both known and desired; they were held in high esteem and seen as a valuable grave good (Schultes 1972; Wassén 1972).

In 1682, the Spanish Jesuit Juan Lorenzo Lucero sent a letter to the viceroy of Peru, Melchor Navarra y Rocafull, in which he described guayusa:


They [the Jíbaro] mix together all of these diabolic herbs [Banisteriopsis caapiBrugmansiaDatura, or similar plants] with guañusa and tobacco [Nicotiana tabacum], which was also invented by the devil, and allow this to boil until only a little liquid remains, the quintessence of evil, and the faith of those who drink this has been twisted by the devil through the fruit of enchantment and always to the disadvantage of all.” (In Patiño 1968, 311)


Guayusa has a long tradition as a love magic. In Ecuador, it is said that when a person gives guayusa to a lover, he or she will always return, no matter how far away the journey has taken him or her. The Indians of the eastern borders of the Andes drink guayusa tea as a tonic, as a ritual emetic, and to have “hunting dreams” (Müller 1995, 196*). The shamans or medicine men of the Kamsá Indians (Colombia) also use guayusa leaves, although we do not know how (Schultes 1979, 144).

The best-known example of guayusa use is the daily ritual use among the Jíbaro (Shuar, Achuar). Every morning, over a period of about one hour, and often in the company of one another, the men of the tribe drink some 2.2 liters of a guayusa decoction that has been boiled for at least one hour. They then stick their finger down their throat or tickle their throat with a feather so that they will vomit (Patiño 1968, 312). This causes them to regurgitate about half of the liquid they have consumed. The drink wakes up the men and gives them strength; also, they say that they will not need to eat anything all day (an important effect for a hunter) because of it. The vomiting that follows the consumption of these large quantities of guayusa does not appear to be caused by any substances contained in the drink but is instead a learned and trained body practice (Lewis et al. 1991). The vomiting is said to expel the undigested food from the previous day that burdens the stomach and also helps prevent an overdose.

“The wayus ritual was approaching its inevitable end. The properties of this morning infusion are not merely social in nature: it is primarily an emetic. Small amounts of wayus have no particular effects. But here it is poured down without interruption, just like the manioc beer, until the large, black pot has been drunk to the bottom. Then a persistent nausea will begin if one does not expel the great quantities of liquid from the stomach as quickly as possible. . . . [They are devoted] to the daily habit of vomiting. Without this energetic purging which gives back to the organism the innocence of an empty stomach, the men would be unable to begin the day. The Achuar see the cleansing spewing of the physiological remnants as a good way to cast off the past and to experience their return to the world each morning with an entirely new bodily feeling.”






Large amounts of guayusa are also consumed before the most important tribal ceremonies, such as the women’s tobacco ritual, the victory celebration (tsantsa), and the (no longer practiced) manufacture of shrunken heads (Schultes 1972, 130 f.).

The Jíbaro say that guayusa can have narcotic or hypnotic properties, as a result of which they may obtain “little dreams” in which they can see whether a hunting expedition will be successful. Seeing heavily boiling guayusa in a dream is regarded as a good omen (Karsten 1935; Patiño 1968, 312 f.; Schultes 1972, 131).

The Shuar use the leaves as an ayahuasca additive (Bennett 1992, 492*). They also drink guayusa tea before, during, or after ingesting ayahuasca “to wipe out the bitter taste” and “to prevent a hangover”; moreover, “it gives power and strength in the use of ayahuasca” (Schultes and Raffauf 1990, 80*; Shemluck 1979, 157).

In addition to the Jíbaro, the following tribes are known to use guayusa: Omagua, Kokama, Pánobo, Kaschibo, Koto, Pioché, Lamisto, Kichos, Canelo, Mocoa, Aguano, Kandoschi, Sabela, Chívaro, Mayoruna, Tschayahuita, Tschamikuro, Chebero, Omurana, Yagua, Auischiri, Ssimaku, Ikito, Záparo, Yameo, and Pintsche (Patiño 1968, 312).



The Indians of Ecuador and northeastern Peru produce special guayusa drinking bowls or vessels known as guayuceros (Schultes 1972, 126 f.)

Medicinal Use


In the Amazon, it is believed that guayusa tea is good for calming the nerves and also for pregnant women. The tea is drunk for stomach problems and as an aphrodisiac (Shemluck 1979, 157). The Mocoa Indians use guayusa to treat liver pains, malaria, syphilis, and stomachaches and to regulate menstruation (Schultes and Raffauf 1990, 80*). The ashes of guayusa leaves, mixed with honey and barley, are said to provide a remedy for amenorrhea (absence of menstruation). Guayusa leaves, boiled together with the bark of Paullinia yoco, are drunk as a treatment for dysentery and stomach pains (Patiño 1968, 314). It is sometimes claimed that guayusa is useful for treating venereal diseases, chills, and infertility (Schultes 1972, 128).

The Jíbaro and other Indians drink guayusa as a “health tonic” (Schultes 1972, 120). It is said that a woman may become fertile if she drinks guayusa sweetened with honey. A woman who drinks a decoction of guayusa that has been sweetened with honey from a type of bee known as apaté will “immediately” become pregnant (Patiño 1968, 313). In Ecuador, the leaves are sold in herb markets as an “antispasmodic agent” (Schultes 1972, 135).



The leaves typically contain 1.7 to 1.8% caffeine, and less frequently 3 to 4%. One wild plant actually contained 7.6% caffeine—a world record for a plant’s caffeine concentration. Also present are low amounts of theobromine (0.003 to 0.12%) and traces of other dimethylxanthines. Emetine and other substances with emetic effects (such as those found in ipecacuanha and similar plants; cf. Psychotria spp.) have not yet been detected (Lewis et al. 1991, 25, 27, 28).

The caffeine contained in guayusa leaves maintains its quality for a long period of time. Samples dating to over one thousand years ago have been found to contain more than half of the concentration (1.0%) of more recent leaves (1.8%) (Holmsted and Lindgren 1972).

It is possible that triterpenes and chlorogenic acid are also present, as both are well represented in the genus Ilex (Schultes and Raffauf 1990, 79*).



Guayusa tea has potent stimulating effects that will wake up those who ingest it and keep them awake. The emetic (inducing vomiting) effects that have been so often described are actually culturally learned and do not have any pharmacological basis (Lewis 1991, 27). The Jíbaro do not like to use wild plants with high caffeine concentrations, as they are not interested in a caffeine overdose. Instead, their intention is to produce a very specific kind of stimulation that they do not want to exceed. The Achuar report that the typical symptoms of an overdose include severe headache, bloodshot eyes, and disturbing hallucinations (pseudohallucinations, delusions, illusions) (Lewis et al. 1991, 27).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


Living guayusa plants are sometimes available through ethnobotanical specialty sources. The dried leaves are normally available only in Ecuador. The plant is not subject to any legal restrictions.



See also the entries for Ilex cassineIlex paraguariensisIlex vomitoria, and caffeine.


Holmstedt, Bo, and Jan-Erik Lindgren. 1972. Alkaloid analysis of botanical material more than a thousand years old. Etnologiska Studier 32:139–44.


Karsten, Rafael. 1935. The head-hunters of western Amazonas: The life and culture of the Jibaro Indians of eastern Ecuador and Peru. Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum (7, 174, 380).


Lewis, W. H., E. J. Kenelly, G. N. Bass, H. J. Wedner, M. P. Elvin-Lewis, and D. Fast W. 1991. Ritualistic use of the holly Ilex guayusa by Amazonian Jíbaro Indians. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 33:25–30.


Loesener,Theodor. 1901. Monographia Aquifoliacearum. Nova Acta 78. Halle, Germany: Abhandlungen der Kaiserlichen Leop.-Carol.-Deutschen Akademie der Naturforscher.


Patiño, Victor Manuel. 1968. Guayusa, a neglected stimulant from the eastern Andean foothills. Economic Botany 22:311–16.


Schultes, Richard Evans. 1972. Ilex guayusa from 500 A.D. to the present. Etnologiska Studier 32:115–38.


———. 1979. Discovery of an ancient guayusa plantation in Colombia. Botanical Museum Leaflets 27 (5–6): 143–53.


Shemluck, Melvin. 1979. The flowers of Ilex guayusaBotanical Museum Leaflets 27 (5–6): 155–60.


Wassén, S. Henry. 1972. A medicine-man’s implements and plants in a Tihuanacoid tomb in highland Bolivia. Etnologiska Studier 32:3–114.


Ilex paraguariensis Saint-Hilaire


Maté Bush




Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family); Iliceae Tribe

Forms and Subspecies


This variable species is difficult to separate into varieties, forms, and subspecies (Hölzl and Ohem 1993, 508). Occasionally, wild maté is described as Ilex paraguariensis var. genuina. Three varieties are distinguished along the Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil): var. talo roxo (“red stem”), var. talo branco (“white stem”), and var. piriquita. Botanically, the species is divided into three varieties:


Ilex paraguariensis St.-Hil. var. paraguariensis

Ilex paraguariensis St.-Hil. var. sincorensis Loes.

Ilex paraguariensis St.-Hil. var. vestita (Reiss.) Loes.


One of the earliest European illustrations of the Paraguayan and Argentinean maté tree, together with the leaf that is the source of the stimulating tea. (From Pedro de Montenegro, Materia médica misionera, seventeenth century)




Ilex bonplandiana Muenter

Ilex bonplandiana Münter

Ilex congonhas Liais

Ilex curtibensis Miers

Ilex curtibensis Miers var. gardneriana Miers

Ilex domestica Reiss.

Ilex gongonha Martius

Ilex mata St.-Hil.

Ilex mate St.-Hil.

Ilex paraguaiensis Lamb.

Ilex paraguaiensis Unger

Ilex paraguajensis Endlicher

Ilex paraguariensis D. Don

Ilex paraguayensis Hook.

Ilex paraguayensis Morong et Britt.

Ilex paraguayiensis Ed. Winkler

Ilex paraguayriensis Bonpl.

Ilex paraguensis D. Don

Ilex sorbilis Reiss.

Ilex theaezans Bonpl.

Ilex theezans Bonpl.

Ilex vestita Reiss.

Rhamnus quitensis Spreng.

Folk Names


Caá (Guaraní, “leaf”), caáchiri, caá-cuy, caá-cuyo, caaguagu, caá-guazú, caúna, caunina, congoin, congoinfe, congonha (Brazil), congonhas, congoni, erva mate, grünes gold, herba da Bartholomei, herva-mate, jesuitentee, jesuiten-teestrauch, Jesuit tea, kaá, kaá-maté, mate, maté, mate bush, matépalme, matepflanze, mateteestrauch, mathee, matte, palo de yerba mate, Paraguay tea, paraguay-tee, südseetee, yerba, yerbabaum, yerba mate, yerba maté, yerva de palo



In South America, maté appears to have been used as an agent of pleasure and a ritual drug for millennia. Pre-Columbian graves in the Andes region of Peru have yielded maté leaves. In northern Argentina, Indian graves containing silver maté drinking utensils have been discovered. The Guaraní Indians used maté for shamanic purposes as well.

During the early colonial period, attempts were made to enslave the Indians. The Spanish kings, however, quickly forbade this practice, whereupon the Jesuits forced the Indians onto reservations and compelled them to establish maté plantations so that they could become a part of the cash economy. In commemoration of this “great achievement” of Christian charity, maté was first known by the name Jesuit tea (Schröder 1991, 102*).

In Argentina and Paraguay, non-Indians have also been cultivating maté trees since 1606 (Santos Biloni 1990, 196*). In Brazil, maté has been proclaimed the symbolic tree of Rio Grande do Sul.

The physician and botanist Aimé Bonpland (1773–1858), one of Alexander von Humboldt’s traveling companions, described the plant that was the source of maté in 1821. The plant received its valid botanical name the following year.



The true maté bush is found only between the twentieth and thirtieth parallels of South America. Its range extends over parts of Paraguay, northern Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Bolivia (Hölzl and Ohem 1993, 508).



Maté was originally an underwood plant in the extensive araucaria forests. Today, maté plants often stand alone, because the large forests have been cut down. In Argentina, maté is grown on large plantations (yerbatales). The main source of maté, however, is Brazil. When grown on plantations, the bush is maintained at heights between 2 and 5 meters. The harvest takes place between May and September of every second year.

Propagation occurs via the seeds but is rather complicated, as it entails a six-month stratification:


The distribution is performed by birds (pheasant species). They peck up the seeds, and as these pass through the stomach and intestinal tract, the seed’s hard outer shell is destroyed to such an extent that it can germinate after being eliminated. If the seeds are placed in the soil without any preparation, then the seed is unable to break through the shell and it will rot in the ground. The Jesuits solved the problem in their own way: they mixed the seeds into chicken feed! (Schröder 1991, 104*)


The maté tree prefers alluvial soils and does not tolerate clayey or calcareous soils. The young trees grow rapidly, and the first harvest occurs when they are three to six years old. During the harvest, up to 95% of the leaves (including branches) may be removed from the trees. Trees remain productive for fifty to sixty years.


The leaves of the maté bush (Ilex paraguariensis) are quite large.




This evergreen tree typically has a light-colored bark. It can attain heights of 15 to 20 meters and has an oblong-oval crown. The alternate leaves, which can grow from 6 to 20 cm in length, have a serrate-crenate margin and a leathery upper surface. They are dark green on the upper side and light green below. The closely clustered axillary inflorescences have forty to fifty flowers with tetraphyllous or pentaphyllous calyxes. The reddish stone fruit is round and contains four to eight seeds. The trees blossom in the (South American) spring, i.e., from October to November. Although most plants are male, there are also female and even dioecious flowers (Schröder 1991, 103*).

Maté is sometimes confused with Ilex aquifolium L., as both species display considerable variation and can thus exhibit an astonishing degree of similarity. Ilex aquifolium, however, does not contain any caffeine and is therefore unsuitable for use as a maté substitute (Hölzl and Ohem 1993).

The very similar palo de yerba (Ilex argentina Lillo [syn. Ilex tucumanensis Speg.]) occurs in Argentina. The leaves of this plant were once used as a maté substitute (Santos Biloni 1990, 37*). In Chile, one plant (Citronella mucronata [R. et P.] D. Don) from the Family Icacinaceae is known as yerba mate de Chile (Mösbach 1992, 90*).

Psychoactive Material


—Leaves (mate folium, folia mate, mate)


The tea that is made from the leaves is known variously as maté tea, Jesuit tea, mission tea, Paraguay tea, parana tea, St. Bartholomew’s tea, maté, thé du Paraguay, chimarrão, erva maté, and yerba maté.

In South America, the following species are used as substitutes for or additives to the true maté: Ilex brevicuspis Reiss., Ilex conocarpa Reiss., Ilex dumosa Reiss., Ilex microdonta Reiss., Ilex pseudobuxusReiss., and Ilex theezansMart. (Hölzl and Ohem 1993, 508). In Bolivia, Coussarea hydrangeaefolia Benth. et Hook. (Rubiaceae) is regarded as the true maté (Hartwich 1911, 452*).


Botanical illustration of Ilex paraguariensis. (From Köhler’s Medizinalpflanzen, 1887/89)


“Maté is an agent of pleasure for invigorating one’s powers and to increase the sense of well-being. It is the national drink of southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile. The use of maté is part of the sociocultural environment; the guest is greeted with the drink; it is seen as the equivalent of the North American peace pipe. Maté is derived from the Guarani word mati, which originally referred to the drinking vessel; the term was applied to the drink, the drug, and the plant.”




(1993, 511)


“Yari’s slender body transformed itself into a tree trunk and the dainty arms and delicate fingers became the small yerba leaves. ‘The seeds of your blue fruits will open only if a bird has eaten and then eliminated them. You will give yourself to all and be desired by all, you shall calm, console, enliven.’ . . . Since that time there has been yerba, whose tea calms, consoles, enlivens. It is also called maté. Every year, the indios travel to Mbaracuyurú to harvest its leaves. Yet every year the bravest of them are torn apart there by jaguars and strangled by Sucuriús. Meanwhile, a gentle boy died of confusion. Caa Yarí will also make jokes and caress, and she lives with the glowing love of a woman who must wait for a year. The young man who experiences such a thing will not want to eat again. Crazed with love, he will wander confused in the forest until he dies.”






(MELZER 1987, 57f.)


Preparation and Dosage


The freshly harvested leaves and twigs are quickly heated at a high temperature so that they will retain their green color (if dried slowly, they turn black). They are then dried, slowly burned, or roasted over a wood fire or reheated in a metal cylinder (a process known as toasting). Today, a variety of industrial processing techniques are used. The dried, roasted leaves are powdered or finely chopped and sold commercially. In Europe, a distinction is made between green and brown maté (also known as toasted maté leaves or mate folium tostum).

Maté has an acrid, smoky, mildly astringent taste. The normal individual dosage is 2 g of dried leaves to one cup of water. Hot, but not vigorously boiling, water is poured over the leaves, and the mixture is allowed to steep for five to ten minutes. The effects of infusions that are allowed to steep for only a short period are more stimulating, but even cold-water infusions are pleasant tasting and stimulating (Schröder 1991, 103*).

In South America, maté almost always is drunk through a straw (bombilla) from gourd containers or bottles known as cuias. The maté powder (chimarrón) is placed in a bottle and hot water is then added. After the liquid has been sucked out, new water is poured over the used leaves. This process can be repeated several times and has led to a ritualized use of maté. Maté is usually consumed unsweetened. Sometimes, lime or lemon juice may be added.

In Paraguay, maté was typically sweetened before drinking. The Guaraní Indians sweetened the tea with the dried, crumbled leaves of the sweet-tasting Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) Hemsl. (Compositae), which contains not sugar but, rather, sweet-tasting diterpenes (König and Goez 1994, 791; Soejarto et al. 1983, 9). The Guaraní call the Stevia plant kaá hêê, “sweet herb.” Kaá is also their name for the maté tree (Schröder 1991, 102*).

Ritual Use


Many Indian legends portray the tree as one of the most important plants made by the god of creation. During the colonial period, the Spanish were of the opinion that Santo Tomé (Saint Thomas) had brought the tree and the drink to the Indians. The Guaraní and Caingang venerated maté as a magical plant that enabled them to establish contact with the supernatural world. They believe(d) that a spirit named Ka’a Yary lives in the maté tree and protects good, industrious workers but punishes those who do not believe in plant souls (Cadogan 1950; Schaden 1948).

The stimulating effects of maté were discovered by Indian shamans in southern South America. They drank potent decoctions for stimulation and to produce the wakefulness they needed for their nocturnal rituals. The Indians developed their ritual consumption of maté in the pre-Columbian period. They sat together in circles and passed around a vessel filled with maté leaves and hot water. The stimulation was enjoyed communally and was used for telling one another stories.

Today, just as England has its five o’clock tea (cf. Camellia sinensis) and Yemen its afternoon khat chewing (cf. Catha edulis), the communal drinking of maté is a part of the daily life of all social circles in contemporary southern Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina (Chaco).



Almost all of the artifacts associated with maté are objects used in its consumption, especially the cuia (gourd bottle) and the bombilla (sucking straw). Nowadays, cuias are often made of pure silver, although they are still often made in the shape of a bottle gourd. The sucking tubes are usually simple in appearance, and the best are also made of silver.

Medicinal Use


Among the Indians of Argentina, it is customary to ingest almost all of their medicinal herbs in maté tea (Filipov 1994, 182*). In the countries in which it is produced, maté is generally thought to strengthen the stomach and is used to treat rheumatism and fever and as a plaster for sores (Hölzl and Ohem 1993, 511).

The men of the Maká Indians (Chaco, Paraguay) produce an aphrodisiac by pouring hot water over maté and the penis bone of a coati (Nasua nasua [Procynidae]) (Arenas 1987, 285 f.*).178 When made as a cold-water extract, the drink is known as tereré. To treat stomach ailments, they make a tea of maté and the bark of Tabebuia caraiba (Mart.) Bur. (293).179

Homeopathic medicine uses an essence of the bark of the closely related species Ilex verticillata (L.) A. Gray under the name Prinos verticillatus (Schneider 1974, 2:193*). Maté hom. HAB34 or Ilex paraguariensis hom. HPUS88is used in accordance with the medical description to treat digestive weakness and other problems (Hölzl and Ohem 1993, 511).

In Europe, maté is used primarily as an aid to dieting and fasting. Because of its stimulating effects and relatively high vitamin content, it is an ideal beverage for use during fasts.



The leaves contain 0.4 to 1.6% caffeine, 0.3 to 0.45% theobromine, and traces of theophylline (cf. Theobroma cacao). In addition to these purines, the leaves also contain vitamin C, 0.01 to 0.78% essential oil, an enzymatic substance, caffeoylquinic acid (chlorogenic acids 3,5-, 4,5-, and 3,4-dicaffeoylquinic acid, neochlorogenic acid, cryptochlorogenic acid), flavonoids (isoquercetin, camphor oil glycosides, rutoside), saponines, menisdaurine, and several phenols (Hölzl and Ohem 1993).



Maté has a stimulating and invigorating effect that refreshes both the body and the mind. High dosages can produce euphoric feelings with clear wakefulness. The appetite is usually suppressed. Because these effects are induced by at least three different substances (caffeine, theobromine, and chlorogenic acid), the effects of maté are not identical to those of caffeine alone. Side effects or unwanted effects are unknown (Hölzl and Ohem 1993, 511).

According to reports from Guaraní shamans, the consumption of large quantities of maté enables them to enter clairvoyant trance states.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


Maté is available throughout the world without restriction. The form typically sold in Argentina (la hoja elaborada con palo) consists of crushed leaves together with pieces of stems. In Germany, maté is also sold in tea bags. This material usually consists of toasted maté to which aromatic substances have been added. Recently, tea bags containing both maté and guaraná (Paullinia cupana) have appeared on the market.

According to the DAB86, maté leaves should have a caffeine content of no less than 0.6% (Hölzl and Ohem 1993, 510). Commercially available maté tea is occasionally adulterated with material from related species (Ilex brevicuspis Reiss., Ilex dumosa Reiss. var. guaranina Loes.) (Santos Bilonio 1990, 196*).


cuia, the traditional maté drinking vessel (made from a tree gourd), together with a bombilla tube.



Chlorogenic acid







See also the entries for Ilex cassineIlex guayusaIlex vomitoria, and caffeine.


Baltassat, F., N. Darbour, and. S. Ferry. 1984. Étude du contenu purique des drogues à caféine: I.—Le maté: Ilex paraguariensis Lamb. Plantes Médicinales et Phytothérapie 18:195–203.


Cadogan, León. 1950. El culto al árbol y a los animales sagrados en el folklore y las tradiciones guaraníes. América Indígena 10 (1): 327–33.


Graham, Harold N. 1984. Maté. In The methylxanthine beverages and foods: Chemistry, consumption, and health effects, 179–83. New York: Alan R. Liss, Inc.


Hölzl, Josef, and Norbert Ohem. 1993. Ilex. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 5:506–12. Berlin: Springer.


König, Gabriele, and Christiane Goez. 1994. Stevia. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 6:788–92. Berlin: Springer.


Melzer, Dietmar H. 1987. Dschungelmärchen. Friedrichshafen, Germany: Idime.


Schaden, Egon. 1948. A Erva do Diablo. América Indígena 8:165–69.


Schmidt, M. 1988. Mate—eine vergessene Heilpflanze? PTA heute 2 (1): 10–11.


Scutellá, Francisco N. 1993. El mate: Bebida national argentina. Buenos Aires: Editorial Plus Ultra.


Soejarto, Djaja D., César M. Compadre, and A. Douglas Kinghorn. 1983. Ethnobotanical notes on stevia. Botanical Museum Leaflets 29 (1): 1–25.


Vázquez, Alvaro, and Patrick Moyna. 1986. Studies on mate drinking. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 18:267–72.


Ilex vomitoria [Solander in] Aiton






Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family); Iliceae Tribe

Forms and Subspecies


Two subspecies and one form are now botanically accepted:


Ilex vomitoria Ait. ssp. vomitoria

Ilex vomitoria Ait. ssp. chiapensis (Sharp) E. Murr.

Ilex vomitoria Ait. f. pendula Foret et Solymosy


A variety with pileous leaves and longer hairs on the branches has been described for Mexico (Chiapas) (Sharp 1950): Ilex vomitoria [Soland. in] Aiton var. chiapensis A.J. Sharp. Another variety has become known under the name Ilex vomitoria [Soland. in] Aiton var. yawkeyii Tarbox (Schultes 1950, 99).


Ilex vomitoria, also known as yaupon, has relatively small, round leaves.




Ageria cassena (L.) Raf.

Ageria cassena (Michx.) Raf.

Casine yapon Bartram [nom. nud.]

Cassine amulosa Raf. [nom. sphalm.]

Cassine caroliniana Lam.

Cassine paragua (L.) Mill.

Cassine paragua Mill. [non Cassine peragua L.]

Cassine peragua L.

Cassine peragua Mill.

Cassine ramulosa Raf.

Cassine vomitoria Swanton [nom. nud.]

Cassine yaupon Gatschert [nom. nud.]

Emetila ramulosa Raf.

Hierophyllus cassine (L.) Raf.

Hierophyllus cassine (Walt.) Raf.

Ilex atramentaria Bart.

Ilex caroliniana (Lam.) Loes.

Ilex carolinianum (Lam.) Loes.

Ilex cassena Michx.

Ilex cassine L.

Ilex cassine β L.

Ilex cassine (L.) Walt.

Ilex cassine Walt.

Ilex floridana Lam.

Ilex floridiana Lam.

Ilex ligustrina Jacquin

Ilex opaca Soland. in Ait.

Ilex peragua (L.) Trel.

Ilex religiosa Bart.

Ilex vomitoria Soland. in Ait.

Ilex vomitoria var. chiapensis Sharp (= I. vomitoria ssp. chiapensis)

Oreophila myrtifolia Schelle

Prinos glaber L.

Folk Names


Black drink tree, cassena, cassena vera floridanorum, cassiana, cassina, cassine, holly, holly-ilex, Virginia yaupon, yap (Waccon, “wood”), yapon, yaupon, yaupon holly, yop



We do not know with certainty how long Ilex vomitoria has been used in southeastern North America. It was certainly already known in prehistoric times, for it was described in the first sources from the colonial period (cf. Ilex cassine).

Perhaps the earliest description of the yaupon plant in the botanical literature is contained in Bauhin and Cherler’s great encyclopedia, Historia plantarum universalis [Universal History of the Plant World] (1651). In contrast, the “black drink” (and its stimulating and appetite-suppressing effects) had already been described in 1542 by Nuñez Cabeça de Vaca in his Relación y comentarios.

During the American Civil War, toasted yaupon leaves were used as a substitute for tea (Camellia sinensis) and coffee (Coffea arabica). Because of its low caffeine concentration, the plant is only rarely used today, as many other sources of caffeine are now widely available. Yaupon was once thought to be the source of maté (Schneider 1974, 2:192*; cf. Ilex paraguariensis).

The Cherokee are said to have used a “southern yaupon” form as a “hallucinogen” to “evoke ecstasies” (Moerman 1986, 232*). Unfortunately, we have no pertinent recipes or other information about special additives that may have been used to make the mildly caffeinated black drink into such a potent beverage.



The tree is indigenous to the southeastern regions of North America and to areas in the proximity of the North American Caribbean coast. One variety or subspecies occurs in Mexico (Chiapas) (Sharp 1950).



The tree requires moist to moderately dry soil. The plant presumably is propagated from seeds. Because the Indians collected only wild material, they did not develop any methods of cultivation.



This evergreen tree can grow to a height of 6 meters. It has multiple stems and many branches and produces white flowers and scarlet berries. The shiny, emarginated leaves are alternate and are similar in appearance to those of Ilex para-guariensis, although they are usually smaller. The more rounded leaves on the upper branches are some 4 cm in length and are distinctly smaller than those of Ilex cassine. The fruits ripen in October.

Psychoactive Material




Preparation and Dosage


Hartwich mentioned three methods for making the “black drink” or “yaupon holly tea”: “1. by decocting the fresh leaves, 2. the dried leaves, 3. a decoction which must ferment and which is then said to be inebriating” (Hartwich 1911, 468*). Unfortunately, we have no information about the potential fermenting agent for this drink. Saw palmetto fruits may have been used as an additive (cf. palm wine, wine).

The Mikasuki Indians, who now live in the Florida Everglades (to where they were deported), still use a ceremonial drink called black drink at certain tribal rituals. It is obtained or fermented from one or more Everglades plants. It is possible that it is made not from an Ilex species but from the fruits of the saw palmetto (Serenoa repens [Bartr.] Small [syn. Serenoa serrulata (Michx.) Nichols]; cf. palm wine). Neither the drink nor its associated ritual has been studied to date.

Ritual Use


The Indians of the southern coastal region of North America generally believed that Ilex vomitoria and the black drink prepared from it enabled them to attain a state of ceremonial purity, by means of which they were ideally prepared for all rituals and ceremonies (Moerman 1986, 232*). Among the Cherokee, only those warriors who had already proved their courage were allowed to partake of the black drink. It is said to have induced ecstatic states (Hamel and Chiltoskey 1975, 62).

In Oklahoma, the black drink was consumed by socially high-ranking or important personages to cleanse themselves for their public duties. Otherwise, the drink brewed from Ilex vomitoria was used in precisely the same manner as that prepared from Ilex cassine.



In Oklahoma, the large shells of the sea snail Busycon contrarium Conrad or Busycon perversum L.180 were decorated and used for drinking yaupon ritually; they resemble Mesoamerican objects (cf. Ilex cassine).

Mark Catesby’s comprehensive work The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1754) contains an illustration (fig. 25) of a yaupon branch with fruits, around which a snake is coiled. It is possible that the artist’s intent was to express the medicinal or sacred quality of the plant.

Medicinal Use


The primary ethnomedicinal use of the plant was as an emetic, an agent for inducing vomiting (Schultes 1950). The Cherokee used yaupon in the same manner as Ilex cassine, i.e., to treat dropsy and gravel (Hamel and Chiltoskey 1975, 62).



The leaves contain relatively low amounts of caffeine, typically between 0.27 and 0.32%, but approximately 7% tanning agents (Hartwich 1911, 468*; Power and Chestnut 1919). More recent studies (Stone County, Mississippi) found only 0.09% caffeine, along with 0.04% theobromine and no theophylline. Substances with actual emetic effects have not yet been reported (cf. Ilex guayusa). The fruits contain cyanidin-3-xylosylglucoside.



The black drink appears to have produced only mild stimulating effects. In the literature, it is occasionally claimed that a more potent decoction is able to “induce hallucinations” (Turner and Szczawinski 1992, 156*). The emetic effects are also questionable. The “vomiting rituals” of the Indians that were previously described presumably entailed ritual methods (e.g., putting one’s finger in one’s throat; cf. Ilex guayusa) that did not depend upon any pharmacological effects.

Commercial Forms and Regulations



“[Yaupon] is highly regarded by the Indians and used for many purposes, which gives it an even greater character. They say that the virtues of the shrub have been known since the earliest times and that for their use, it has always been prepared in the same manner as today. After drying or roasting the leaves in a pot over the fire, they are stored for use. From these they make their favorite beverage by preparing a potent decoction which they drink in great quantities, both for their health and also with great desire and good pleasure, without any kind of sugar or other additives. They drink great amounts of this, and time and again, and thus swallow many quarts. They have an annual custom in the spring in which the drinking takes place in a ceremony. The inhabitants of the village gather in the communal house after they have cleaned their own houses by burning all of their furniture and replacing this anew. The king is first served the drink in a great bowl or snail shell which has never been used before. After this, the other eminent personages receive the drink according to their rank. The women and the children are the last to receive the brew. They say that it makes lost appetites return, that it strengthens the stomach, and that it gives them power and courage for war.”






(1754, VOL. 2, CH. 57)




See also the entries for Ilex cassine, Ilex guayusaIlex paraguariensis, and caffeine.


Hamel, Paul B., and Mary U. Chiltoskey. 1975. Cherokee plants and their uses: A 400 year history. Sylva, N.C.: Herald Publishing Co.


Power, F. B., and V. K. Chestnut. 1919. Ilex vomitoria as a native source of caffeine. Journal of the American Chemical Society 41:1307–12.


Schultes, Richard Evans. 1950. The correct name of the yaupon. Botanical Museum Leaflets 14 (4): 97–105.


Sharp, A. J. 1950. A new variety of Ilex vomitoria from southern Mexico. Botanical Museum Leaflets 14 (4): 107–8.