Herb: Holly

Latin name: Ilex aquifolium

Synonyms: Ilex balearica, Ilex x altaclarensis

Family: Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family)

Medicinal use of Holly:

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".

Description of the plant:


9 m
(30 feet)

May to


Habitat of the herb:

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

Edible parts of Holly:

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.

Other uses of the herb:

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.

Propagation of Holly:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. It can take 18 months to germinate. Stored seed generally requires two winters and a summer before it will germinate and should be sown as soon as possible in a cold frame. Scarification, followed by a warm stratification and then a cold stratification may speed up the germination time. The seedlings are rather slow-growing. Pot them up into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame for their first year. It is possible to plant them out into a nursery bed in late spring of the following year, but they should not be left here for more than two years since they do not like being transplanted. Alternatively, grow them on in their pots for a second season and then plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Give them a good mulch and some protection for their first winter outdoors. Cuttings of almost ripe wood with a heel, August in a shaded position in a cold frame. Leave for 12 months before potting up. Layering in October. Takes 2 years.

Cultivation of the herb:

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

Known hazards of Ilex aquifolium:

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.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.