Uses and Benefits of Holly

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Holly Quick Facts
Name: Holly
Scientific Name: Ilex aquifolium
Origin Northern Africa, western and southern Europe and western Asia
Colors Green when young turning to bright red to orange
Shapes Berry like drupe (stone fruit), about 6–10 mm in diameter. They each contain four seeds, are usually borne in clusters, and are eaten by birds which disperse the seeds.
Taste Bitter, acrid
Health benefits Beneficial for intermittent fevers, rheumatism, catarrh, pleurisy, jaundice, smallpox, whooping-cough, fever, bronchitis, cold and digestive disorders
Ilex aquifolium, popularly known as holly, common holly, and English holly is a species of flowering plant belonging to holly family (Aquifoliaceae). The plant is native to northern Africa (i.e. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia), western and southern Europe (i.e. the UK, France, Portugal, Spain, Albania, Bulgaria, Italy and Yugoslavia) and western Asia (i.e. Iran, Syria and Turkey). It is regarded as the type species of the genus Ilex, which by association is also called “holly”. In the British Isles it is one of very few native evergreen trees. It has a great capacity to adapt to different conditions and is a pioneer species that repopulates the margins of forests or clear-cuts.

American holly, Appalachian tea, Cassena, Christmas berry, Deer berry, English holly, Holly, Indian black drink, Indian holly, Oregon holly, Yaupon, European holly, Common Holly, prickly-leaved holly and variegated holly are some of the popular common names of the plant. Genus name comes from the Latin name Quercus ilex for holm oak in reference to the foliage similarities (holm oak and many of the shrubs in the genus Ilex have evergreen leaves). Specific epithet comes from the Latin word acus meaning needle and folium meaning leaf in reference to the spiny leaves.

Holly Facts

Name Holly
Scientific Name Ilex aquifolium
Native Northern Africa (i.e. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia), western and southern Europe (i.e. the UK, France, Portugal, Spain, Albania, Bulgaria, Italy and Yugoslavia) and western Asia (i.e. Iran, Syria and Turkey).
Common Names American holly, Appalachian tea, Cassena, Christmas berry, Deer berry, English holly, Holly, Indian black drink, Indian holly, Oregon holly, Yaupon, European holly, Common Holly, prickly-leaved holly, variegated holly
Name in Other Languages frikaans: Holly     
Amharic: Holī (ሆሊ)
Albanian: Ashe, ashja, ilqe
Arabic: Huli (هولي)
Armenian: P’sharmav  (փշարմավ)
Azerbaijani: Holly
Basque: Gorostiak
Belarusian: Padub (падуб)
Bengali: Ciraśyāmala gulmabiśēṣa (চিরশ্যামল গুল্মবিশেষ)
Bosnian: Zelenika
Bulgarian: Djel (джел), zelenika (зеленика), ileks (илекс), samodivski chishmir (самодивски чишмир)
Catalan: Arbre de mal fruit, Boix grèvol, Coscoll de vesc, Grèvol, greu, greuler, grèvol de visc         
Cebuano: Holly
Chichewa: Holly
Chinese: Dōngqīng (冬青)
Corsican: Agliu
Croatian: Božikovina, božika,
Czech: Cesmína, cesmína ostrolistá,
Danish: Kristtorn, Almindelig kristtorn
Dutch: Hulst, groene hulst
English: English holly, Holly, European holly, English holl, Christmas Holly, Common Holly, English Holly, prickly-leaved holly; variagated holly
Esperanto: Ilekso
Estonian: Astelpõõsas
Filipino: Holly
Finnish: Orjanlaakeri
French: Agrifous, agriou, bois franc, grand pardon, gréou, grifeuil, housson, houx, houx à feuilles epineuses, houx commun, meslier épineux
Frisian: Hulst
Galician: Acivro
Georgian: Holly
German: Gemeine Stechpalme, gemeiner Hülst, gewoehnliche Stechpalme, Hülsdorn, Hülsstrauch, Stechholder, Stechpalme, Hülse, Hulst, Stechhülse           
Greek: Prínos (πρίνος), Ílix (Ίληξ), lióprino  (λιόπρινο)
Gujarati: Hōlī (હોલી)
Haitian Creole: Holly
Hausa: Holly
Hawaiian: Holly
Hebrew: הולי
Hindi: Hollee (होल्ली)
Hmong: Holly
Hungarian: Magyal, Közönséges magyal
Icelandic: Holly
Igbo: Holly
Indonesian: Holly
Irish: Cuileann
Italian: Agrifoglio, agrifolio, alboro spinoso, aquifolio
Japanese: Horī (ホリー), seiyou hiiragi
Javanese: Holly
Kannada: Hali (ಹಾಲಿ)
Kazakh: Kholli  (Холли)
Khmer: Holly
Kinyarwanda: Holly
Korean: Holli (홀리)
Kurdish: Pîroz
Kyrgyz: Holly
Lao: Holly
Latin: Ilex
Latvian: Aslapainā palma
Lithuanian: Bugienis
Luxembourgish: Holly
Macedonian: Kholi (Холи)
Malagasy: Holly
Malayalam: Hēāḷi  (ഹോളി)
Malay: Holly
Maltese: Holly
Maori: Holly
Marathi: Holee (होली)
Mongolian: Kholli (Холли)
Myanmar (Burmese): Holly
Nepali: Holee (होली)
Netherlands: Europese hulst, hulst
Norwegian: Kristtorn, Beenwedd, Mar-torn, beinved
Occitan: Fouito-pastre, Grefuèlh, Gréfol, Grífol
Odia: ହୋଲି 
Pashto: هولی
Persian: راج
Polish: Ostrokrzew, ostrokrzew kolczasty
Portuguese: Azevinho, acevinho, acevinho-espinhoso, aquifólio, cibro, espinha-sempre-verde, pica-folha, pica-rato, teio, vidreiro, visqueiro, xardo, xardón, zebro
Punjabi: Hōlī (ਹੋਲੀ)
Romanian: Ilice, laur
Russian: Padub (падуб), padub ostrolistnyy  (падуб остролистный)     
Samoan: Paia
Scots Gaelic: Cuileann
Serbian: Zelenika (зеленика), bozhika (божика), ostrolist (остролист), chesvina (чесвина)
Sesotho: Natalie 
Shona: Holly        
Somali: Anfaca    
Swahili: Holly
Sindhi: پاڪ
Sinhala: Sākayaṭat (ශාකයටත්)
Slovak: Svätý, cezmína ostrolistá
Slovenian: Holly, navadna bodika
Spanish: Acebo, muerdago, Agrifolio, Cardonera, Xardón, cardon boixgrevol; grèvol, alebro, aquifolio, boix grevol, cebro, crévol, gorostiza
Sundanese: Holly
Swedish: Järnek, Kristtorn
Tatar: Kholli (холли)
Tajik: Kholli (Холли)           
Tamil: Hōli (ஹோலி)     
Telugu: Hāllī (హాల్లీ)              
Thai: T̂n ḥxl lī (ต้นฮอลลี)          
Turkish: Cobanpüskülü      
Turkmen: Holly
UK: Holm, hulver bush
Ukrainian: Padub (падуб)
Urdu: ہولی           
Uyghur: Holly      
Uzbek: Xolli
Vietnamese: Hoa huệ
Welsh: Celyn
Xhosa: Ngcwele
Yiddish: Khali (כאַלי)
Yoruba: Holly
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro): Bodika, bozikovina, bozjiles
Zulu: Holly
Plant Growth Habit Large, slow-growing evergreen tree or shrub
Growing Climates Forests, forest edges, scrub- and woodland, hedges, thickets, second-growth forest, roadsides, open ground
Soil Prefers acid, sandy or gravelly loam soils and found in most well-drained soil
Plant Size 10–25 m (33–82 ft) tall with a woody stem as wide as 40–80 cm (16–31 in), rarely 100 cm (39 in) or more, in diameter
Bark Bark of the young branches is green and shiny but light gray on older branches and stems
Stem Younger stems are green and covered in fine hairs (i.e. finely pubescent), while older stems quickly become hairless (i.e. glabrous).
Wood Hard and dense and is often used for wood cutting
Twigs Twigs are greenish to purplish
Leaf Dark green, thick, glossy, ovate or elliptic, 5-12 cm long, 2.5-5.5 cm wide, glabrous, margins usually thickened, undulate, regularly or irregularly toothed, the teeth stiff, spreading, spinose, rarely entire
Flowering season May to June
Flower Flowers are small, white, fragrant, and found in clusters
Fruit Shape & Size Berry like drupe (stone fruit), about 6–10 mm in diameter.  They each contain four seeds, are usually borne in clusters, and are eaten by birds which disperse the seeds
Fruit Color Green when young turning to bright red to orange
Seed Light brown or yellowish seeds are either smooth or ribbed
Propagation By seed and sometimes also vegetatively by suckering and layering
Taste Bitter, acrid
Plant Parts Used Leaves, berries, bark
Lifespan About can live 500 years, but usually does not reach 100
Season August to October
Culinary Uses
  • The leaves have been used as a tea substitute.
  • The roasted fruit has been used as a coffee substitute.

Plant Description

Holly is a large, slow-growing evergreen tree or shrub that normally grows about 10–25 m (33–82 ft.) tall with a woody stem as wide as 40–80 cm (16–31 in), rarely 100 cm (39 in) or more, in diameter. The plant has a pyramidal crown, which branches from the base. The bark of the young branches is green and shiny but light gray on older branches and stems. The wood is hard and dense and is often used for wood cutting. Twigs are greenish to purplish. The plant is found growing in Forests, forest edges, scrub- and woodland, hedges, thickets, second-growth forest, roadsides and open ground. The plant prefers acid, sandy or gravelly loam soils and found in most well-drained soil. The younger stems are green and covered in fine hairs (i.e. finely pubescent), while older stems quickly become hairless (i.e. glabrous).

Leaves

The thick and leathery leaves are alternately arranged on the stems and are borne on stalks (i.e. petioles) 5-15 mm long. These leaves are 5–12 cm long and 2–6 cm wide and are roughly oval (i.e. oblong-elliptic) in shape with wavy (i.e. undulate) margins and pointed tips (i.e. acute apices). In the young and in the lower limbs of mature trees, the leaves have three to five sharp spines on each side, pointing alternately upward and downward, while leaves of the upper branches in mature trees lack spines and may even have entire and flat margins. Their upper leaf surfaces are dark green and glossy, while their undersides are paler in color and duller in appearance. Leaf margin may be undulate with spines, especially in the lower part of the tree.

The leaves have neither taste nor odor. They remain attached to the tree for several years, and when they fall, defy for a long time the action of air and moisture, owing to their leathery texture and durable fibers, which take a long time to decay.

Flowers

Small flowers are about 8 mm across and are usually borne in three-flowered clusters (occasionally 1-6 flowers in each cluster), which are thickly arranged into larger clusters in the leaf forks (i.e. axils).  The plant is dioecious, meaning that there are male plants and female plants. The sex cannot be determined until the plants begin flowering, usually between 4 and 12 years of age. Separate male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. All flowers are borne on very short stalks (i.e. pedicels) up to 2 mm long. They have four tiny sepals which are about 1.5 mm long and four white or pinkish petals that are 2-5 mm long. The male flowers are yellowish and appear in axillary groups and have four stamens and a rudimentary ovary, while the female flowers are isolated or in groups of three and are small and white or slightly pink, and consist of four petals and four sepals partially fused at the base and have four partially formed stamens (i.e. staminodes) and an ovary topped with a short style and a globular stigma. Flowering occurs mainly during May to June.

Fruit

The fruit only appears on female plants, which require male plants nearby to fertilize them. The fruit is a berry like drupe (stone fruit), about 6–10 mm in diameter. These rounded or egg-shaped fruit turns from green to bright red or bright yellow in color as it matures around October or November. At this time they are very bitter due to the ilicin content and so are rarely eaten until late winter after frost has made them softer and more palatable. They are eaten by rodents, birds and larger herbivores. Each fruit consists of 3 to 4 seeds which do not germinate until the second or third spring. The light brown or yellowish seeds are either smooth or ribbed. The fruit can remain on the tree for the whole winter if not eaten by birds.  Blackbirds are often seen flying out of our holly trees this time of the year when they are disturbed by curious dendrologists.  

Traditional uses and benefits of Holly

  • Holly is little used in modern herbalism.
  • Leaves are diaphoretic, expectorant, febrifuge and tonic.
  • They are used in the treatment of intermittent fevers, rheumatism, catarrh, pleurisy etc.
  • Juice of the fresh leaves has been successfully used in the treatment of jaundice.
  • 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.
  • Berries are toxic, especially to children, and should not be used medicinally except under professional supervision.
  • Root has been used as a diuretic, though there are more effective diuretics available.
  • Holly leaves were formerly used as a diaphoretic and an infusion of them was given in catarrh, pleurisy and smallpox.
  • They have also been used in intermittent fevers and rheumatism for their febrifugal and tonic properties, and powdered, or taken in infusion or decoction.
  • Bark and leaves are good used as fomentations for broken bones.
  • In traditional medicine, holly is supposed to be diuretic, a relief from fever, and a laxative.
  • In the Forest of Bere (Hampshire) it used to be held that milk drunk from a holly-wood bowl would cure a child of whooping-cough.
  • Herb has occasionally been used internally in the form of a hot tea to reduce fever, treat bronchitis, common cold and some digestive disorders.
  • It is also thought to be helpful as a blood purifying tonic for chronic rheumatic ailments and disorders.
  • They have been used traditionally as an herbal remedy for dropsy or edema (fluid retention).
  • Powdered fruits have an astringent (contracting) effect and have been used to halt bleeding.
  • Leaves are used to treat include fever, rheumatism and digestive issues.
  • Holly leaf extract is occasionally used to combat jaundice, dizziness and emotional problems.
  • In some cases, holly is even utilized as a method of fighting heart disease.
  • It has been used in colds, pleurisy, intermittent fever, smallpox, rheumatism and diseases that cause jaundice (yellowing of the skin).
  • Reduced to powder, berries have been used as astringents to check intestinal bleeding.
  • In the central and southern England, holly was used to treat chilblains.
  • Tea from the leaves has been used for measles and colds.
  • Leaves help treatment for sore eyes and itchy skin.

Other Facts

  • It is an excellent hedge plant, tolerating hard clipping and maritime exposure and forming a dense stock-proof shelter.
  • It is beautifully white, except at the center 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.
  • Wood is used for woodcraft, turnery, handles, sleeves, sticks.
  • Its leaves are browsed by mammals and in the past were used as cattle fodder.
  • The mucilaginous bark of young shoots is used to produce birdlime.
  • It is a subject of music and folklore, especially in the British tradition.
  • It is also a popular ornamental shrub or hedge, with numerous cultivars in a range of colors.
  • Its white, fine-grained, hard wood is used for decorative carving and was formerly used for mathematical instruments and light machinery components.
  • It has even been dyed black and used as a substitute for ebony piano keys.

Precautions

  • The fruit and probably other parts of the plant contain saponin and are toxic, causing diarrhea, vomiting and stupor.
  • Do not exceed recommended doses.
  • Fruits are particularly poisonous to children.
  • The fruits are toxic; eating them will cause vomiting and abdominal pain.
  • Due to the fruit’s toxic effects, they should not be used internally.
  • The fruits are poisonous and consumption of more than five berries can cause digestive disorders, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sleepiness.
  • Consuming 20 to 30 berries or more can cause life-threatening inflammation to occur in the digestive system.

References:

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=503154#null

http://www.hear.org/pier/species/ilex_aquifolium.htm

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Ilex+aquifolium

https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=c208

http://www.floracatalana.net/ilex-aquifolium-l

https://www.nps.gov/olym/learn/nature/english-holly.htm

https://www.drugs.com/npp/holly.html

https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/holly-28.html

https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=ILAQ80

https://www.invasiveplantatlas.org/subject.html?sub=5744

https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/28487

http://www.tn-grin.nat.tn/gringlobal/taxonomydetail.aspx?id=19670

https://accs.uaa.alaska.edu/wp-content/uploads/Ilex_aquifolium_BIO_ILAQ80.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilex_aquifolium

http://www.theplantlist.net/tpl/record/kew-2860379

https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/ILEAQ

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