Black Drink

Black drink (“Carolina tea”; Catawba yaupon; Creek ássi-lupútski, small leaves, commonly abbreviated ássi). A decoction, so named by British traders from its color, made by boiling leaves of the Ilex cassine in water. It was employed by the tribes of the Gulf states and adjacent region as “medicine” for ceremonial purification. It was a powerful agent for the production of the nervous state and disordered imagination necessary to spiritual power. Hall 1 says that among the Creeks the liquid was prepared and drank before councils in order, as they believed, to invigorate the mind and body and prepare for thought and debate. It was also used in the great “busk” or annual green-corn thanksgiving. The action of the drink in strong infusion is purgative, vomitive, and diuretic, and it was long thought that this was the only effect, but recent investigation has shown that the plant contains caffeine, the leaves yielding a beverage with stimulating qualities like tea and coffee, and that excessive indulgence produces similar nervous disturbance. The plant was held in great esteem by the southern Indians, and the leaves were collected with care and formed an article of trade among the tribes 2. The leaves and tender shoots were gathered, dried, roasted, and stored in baskets until needed. According to Gatschet the Creeks made three potions from cassine of differing strength for different uses. In its preparation the leaves, having been roasted in a pot, were added to water and boiled. Before drinking, the Indians agitated the tea to make it frothy. Tea made from the Ilex cassine is still sometimes used by white people in localities where the shrub grows. Personal names referring to the black-drink ceremony were very common, especially among the Creeks and Seminole. The name of Osceola, the noted Seminole chief, is properly Asi-yahdóa, Black-drink Singer. The drink was called ássi-lupútski by the Creeks. C. C. Jones 3 calls the drink “foskey.”

Consult Further:

  • Gatschet, Creek Migr. Leg., II, 56, 1888, and works therein cited;
  • Hale, Ilex Cassine, Bull. 14, Div. Botany, U. S. Dept, Agriculture, 1891.


  1. Rep. Nat. Mus., 218, 1885[]
  2. Griffith, Med. Bot. , 1847[]
  3. Tomochichi, 118, 1868[]

Creek, Seminole,

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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