Picture of Christmas Holly with leaves and berriesHolly
Ilex  aquifolium L.
Compiled and edited by Ivor Hughes.

1.  A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve F.R.H.S.
2.  The United States Dispensatory. 21st Edition 1926.

3.   Boerickes Homoeopathic Materia Medica

1.  A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve F.R.H.S.

Common Name : Holly 
Nat Ord : Aquifoliaceae
Synonyms : Hulver Bush. Holm. Hulm. Holme Chase, Holy Tree, Christmas Holly,  Christ's Thorn
Parts Used : Leaves, berries, bark. 

Habitat : The Holly is a native of most of the central and  southern parts of Europe. It grows very slowly: when planted among trees which  are not more rapid in growth than itself, it is sometimes drawn up to a height  of 50 feet, but more frequently its greatest height in this country is 30 to 40  feet, and it rarely exceeds 2 feet in diameter. In Italy and in the woods of  France, especially in Brittany, it attains a much larger size than is common in  these islands.

History : Holly, the most important of the English  evergreens, forming one of the most striking objects in the wintry woodland,  with its glossy leaves and clusters of brilliant scarlet berries, is in the  general mind closely connected with the festivities of Christmas, having been  from very early days in the history of these islands gathered in great  quantities for Yuletide decorations, both of the Church and of the home. The old  Christmas Carols are full of allusions to Holly:

Christmas decorations are said to be derived from a custom  observed by the Romans of sending boughs, accompanied by other gifts, to their  friends during the festival of the Saturnalia, a custom the early Christians  adopted. In confirmation of this opinion, a subsequent edict of the Church of  Bracara has been quoted, forbidding Christians to decorate their houses at  Christmas with green boughs at the same time as the pagans, the Saturnalia  commencing about a week before Christmas. The origin has also been traced to the  Druids, who decorated their huts with evergreens during winter as an abode for  the sylvan spirits. In old church calendars we find Christmas Eve marked templa  exornantur (churches are decked), and the custom is as deeply rooted in modern  times as in either pagan or early Christian days.

An old legend declares that the Holly first sprang up under the footsteps of Christ, when He trod the earth, and its thorny leaves and scarlet berries, like drops of blood, have been thought symbolical of the Saviour's sufferings, for  which reason the tree is called 'Christ's Thorn' in the languages of the  northern countries of Europe. It is, perhaps, in connection with these legends  that the tree was called the Holy Tree, as it is generally named by our older  writers. Turner, for instance, refers to it by this name in his Herbal published  in 1568. Other popular names for it are Hulver and Holme, and it is still called  Hulver in Norfolk, and Holme in Devon, and Holme Chase in one part of Dartmoor.

Pliny describes the Holly under the name of Aquifolius, needle leaf, and adds  that it was the same tree called by Theophrastus Crataegus, but later commentators deny this. Pliny tells us that Holly if planted near a house or  farm, repelled poison, and defended it from lightning and witchcraft, that the  flowers cause water to freeze, and that the wood, if thrown at any animal, even  without touching it, had the property of compelling the animal to return and lie down by it.  

In May, the Holly bears in the axils of the  leaves, crowded, small, whitish flowers, male and female flowers being usually  borne on different trees. The fertile flowers are succeeded by the familiar,  brilliant, coral-red berries. The same tree rarely produces abundant crops of  flowers in consecutive seasons, and Hollies sometimes produce abundance of  flowers, but never mature berries, this barrenness being caused by the male  flowers alone being properly developed. Berries are rarely produced abundantly  when the tree is much clipped, and are usually found in the greatest number on  the upper part of the tree, where the leaves are less spiny.

The berries, though  eaten by birds, are injurious to human beings, and children should be warned  against them. Deer will eat the leaves in winter, and sheep thrive on them. They  are infested with few insects.

The ease with which Holly can be kept trimmed renders it valuable as a hedge  plant: it forms hedges of great thickness that are quite impenetrable.

It has been stated by M. J. Pierre, that the young stems are gathered in  Morbihan by the peasants, and made use of as a cattle-food from the end of  November until April, with great success. The stems are dried, and having been  bruised are given as food to cows three times daily. They are found to be very  wholesome and productive of good milk, and the butter made from it is excellent. 

It is also well known to rabbit-breeders that a Holly-stick placed in a hutch  for the rabbits to gnaw, will act as a tonic, and restore their appetite.

The wood of Holly is hard, compact and of a remarkable even substance  throughout. Except towards the centre of very old trees, it is beautifully  white, and being susceptible of a very high polish, is much prized for  ornamental ware, being extensively used for inlaying, as in the so-called  Tunbridge ware. The evenness of its grain makes it very valuable to the turner.  When freshly cut, it is of a slightly greenish hue, but soon becomes perfectly  white, and its hardness makes it superior to any other white wood. As it is very  retentive of its sap and warps in consequence, it requires to be well dried and  seasoned before being used. It is often stained blue, green, red or black; when  of the latter colour, its principal use is as a substitute for ebony, as in the  handles of metal teapots. Mathematical instruments are made of it, also the  blocks for calico printing, and it has been employed in wood engraving as a  substitute for boxwood, to which, however, it is inferior. The wood of the  silver-striped variety is said to be whiter than that of the common kind.

A straight Holly-stick is much prized for the stocks of light driving whips,  also for walking-sticks.

Part Used :The leaves and berries, also the bark. The leaves are used both fresh and  dried, but usually in the dried condition, for which they are collected in May  and June. They should be stripped off the tree on a dry day, the best time being  about noon, when there is no longer any trace of dew on them. All stained or  insect-eaten leaves must be rejected.

Medicinal Action and Uses :
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, have been employed with success where Cinchona has  failed, their virtue being said to depend on a bitter principle, an alkaloid  named Ilicin. The juice of the fresh leaves has been employed with advantage in  jaundice.

The berries possess totally different qualities to the leaves, being  violently emetic and purgative, a very few occasioning excessive vomiting soon  after they are swallowed, though thrushes and blackbirds eat them with impunity.  They have been employed in dropsy; also, in powder, as an astringent to check  bleeding.

Culpepper says 'the bark and leaves are good used as fomentations for broken  bones and such members as are out of joint.' He considered the berries to be  curative of colic.

From the bark, stripped from the young shoots and suffered to ferment,  birdlime is made. The bark is stripped off about midsummer and steeped in clean  water; then boiled till it separates into layers, when the inner green portion  is laid up in small heaps till fermentation ensues. After about a fortnight has  elapsed, it becomes converted into a sticky, mucilaginous substance, and is  pounded into a paste, washed and laid by again to ferment. It is then mixed with  some oily matter, goosefat being preferred, and is ready for use. Very little,  however, is now made in this country. In the north of England, Holly was  formerly so abundant in the Lake District, that birdlime was made from it in  large quantities and shipped to the East Indies for destroying insects.       

Adapted from : A Modern Herbal by Mrs M. Grieve F.R.H.S.   

2.  The United States Dispensatory. 21st Edition 1926.

Ilex. Holly. Houx, Fr. Stechpalme, Ohristdorn, G. Several species of Ilex (Fam. Aquifoliaceae) are employed in different parts of the world.

I. Aquifolium L., or European Holly, is an evergreen tree growing to the height of 40 feet, but under cultivation is often shrubby. It has a pyramidal crown of short spreading branches which bear alternate, ovate or oblong-ovate, sinuate, spiny toothed, shining coriaceous leaves and globular, scarlet fruits. It is the most beautiful of all evergreens, but is unsuited to our climate, being too tender to withstand the winters in the northern States and equally affected by the hot, dry summers in the southern States. A viscid substance called birdlime is prepared from the inner bark (see Viscum). The leaves, which are of a bitter, somewhat acrid taste, were formerly much esteemed as a diaphoretic, and in the form of infusion were employed in catarrh, pleurisy, small-pox, gout, etc. At one time they enjoyed a brief reputation in France as a cure for intermit-tents. They were used in powder, in the dose of a drachm two hours before the paroxysm, and this dose was sometimes repeated frequently during the apyrexia.

Labourdais obtained an amorphous bitter principle which he called iliein from the leaves. (See A. J. P., xxi, 89.) Moldenhauer in 1857 separated a yellow coloring substance called iliaeanthin, and a peculiar acid called ilicic acid. Ilicic alcohol, C30H50O, was separated by Personne from birdlime and found to be identical with ά-amyrin. (C. R. S. B., 1908, 862.) Ilixanthin is C17H22O11. It crystallizes in yellow needles, which change color at 185� C., melt at 198� C., and at 214� C. boil with decomposition, and are not sublimable.

It is insoluble in ether, but soluble in alcohol. In cold water it is almost insoluble; but hot water dissolves it freely, and deposits it in crystals on cooling. The berries are about the size of a pea, red and bitter, and are said to be purgative, emetic, and diuretic. Ten or twelve of them will usually act on the bowels, and sometimes excite vomiting. Their expressed juice has been used in jaundice.

Ilex opaca Ait., or American holly, is a middling evergreen-tree attaining a height of 50 feet, growing throughout the Atlantic section of the United States, and especially abundant in New Jersey. It resembles European holly in many details but has less glossy leaves and fruits. The berries, examined by D. P. Pancoast, were found to contain tannin, pectin, two crystallizable organic principles, and salts of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. One of the crystallizable principles was inodorous and tasteless, the other inodorous but intensely bitter. The latter is probably pure ilicin. (A. J. P., xxviii, 314.) Walter A. Smith (A. J. P., 1887, 1668) obtained a resin soluble in alcohol by the ether extraction, and in the portion of this soluble in water he obtained evidences of a glucoside. This species is said to possess the same medicinal properties as I. aquifolium L.

3.   Boerickes Homoeopathic Materia Medica
ILEX AQUIFOLIUM. (American Holly)
Intermittent fever. Marked eye symptoms, spleen pain. All symptoms better in winter.

Eye. infiltration of cornea; staphyloma; nightly burning in orbits, rheumatic inflammation of eye; psilosis.

Relationship. Ilex Paraguayensis. Yerba Mate. (Persistent epigastric pain; sense of dryness of mouth and pharynx, anorexia, pyrosis, nervous depression, neurasthenia. Somnolence; incapacity for work, diminution of urinary secretion, headache and pruritus. Hemicrania. Renal colic. Is said to be of use as a prophylactic against sunstroke, being a safe stimulant to the circulation, to diaphoresis and diuresis.)

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