Latin Name: Ilex aquifolium

Fruits image from Wikispecies

Fruits image from Wikispecies

Origin: Native to south and west Europe, west Asia and North Africa.

Family: Aquifoliaceae.

Known Hazards: The fruit and probaby other parts of the plant contain saponins and are toxic, causing diarrhoea, vomiting and stupor. However, toxicity levels are low and it is only in very large doses that problems are likely to arise.

Habitat: Found in most well-drained soils in scrub, hedges and woodland where it is often the dominant under-storey shrub.

Edibility Rating: 2 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 2 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Holly is an upright evergreen shrub or small tree growing to 15m tall. It has dark green, prickly leaves and small off-white flowers borne in the axils of the leaves. In most cases male and female flowers are borne on different trees. Female flowers develop into rounded glistening dark red berries which in the northern hemisphere appear in October November and are traditionally associated with Christmas. The plant not is self-fertile.It is noted for attracting wildlife.In Australia they appear in autumn.The berries are eaten by birds which disperse the seeds into bushland. Damage to roots may stimulate suckering and lower branches may root where they touch the ground, forming dense clumps.

Edible Uses

Tea. The leaves have been used as a tea substitute. The roasted fruit has been used as a coffee substitute. Some caution is advised here, since the fruit can be purgative and emetic.


Medicinal Uses

Flower detail by Tim Waters

Flower detail by Tim Waters

Astringent; Bach; Diuretic; Emetic; Expectorant; Febrifuge; Purgative. Holly is little used in modern herbalism. The leaves are diaphoretic, expectorant, febrifuge and tonic. They can be use fresh at almost any time of the year or can be harvested in late spring and dried for later use. They are used in the treatment of intermittent fevers, rheumatism, catarrh, pleurisy etc. The juice of the fresh leaves has been successfully used in the treatment of jaundice. The berries are violently emetic and purgative. They have been used in the treatment of dropsy and as a powder they have been used as an astringent to check bleeding. The berries are toxic, especially to children, and should not be used medicinally except under professional supervision. The root has been used as a diuretic, though there are more effective diuretics available. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies – the keywords for prescribing it are ‘Hatred’, ‘Envy’, ‘Jealousy’ and ‘Suspicion’.


Other Uses

Fuel; Ground cover; Hedge; Wood. An excellent hedge plant, tolerating hard clipping and maritime exposure and forming a dense stock-proof shelter. Plants are fairly slow growing however. The cultivar ‘Pendula’ makes a very good carpeting ground cover plant when grown as a cutting on its own roots. It can be planted up to 1.2 metres apart each way, but is fairly slow to cover the ground. Wood – strong, hard and dense, it polishes well, though it must be well dried and seasoned or else it warps badly. It is beautifully white, except at the centre of very old trees, and is highly regarded by cabinet makers though it must be well seasoned. The heartwood of mature trees is used for printing blocks, engravings, turnery etc. The wood makes a good fuel, burning well even when green.

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