Herb: American Holly

Latin name: Ilex opaca

Synonyms: Ilex quercifolia

Family: Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family)

Medicinal use of American Holly:

The berries are laxative, emetic and diuretic. They are used in the treatment of children's diarrhoea, colic and indigestion. A tea made from the leaves has been used as a treatment for measles, colds etc. The leaves have also been used externally in the treatment of sore eyes, sore and itchy skin. A tea made from the bark was once used in the treatment of malaria and epilepsy. It has also been used as a wash for sore eyes and itchy skin.

Description of the plant:


15 m
(49 feet)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Grows in a variety of soil types, but it is generally found in deep moist bottomlands. Moist woods, hedges and fields.

Edible parts of American Holly:

The roasted leaves are used as a tea substitute. They do not contain caffeine. The drink was a very popular tea substitute during the American Civil war.

Other uses of the herb:

A number of cultivars of this species are used for hedging. Fairly wind-resistant, this species is also used in shelterbelt plantings. A dye has been made from the berries - the colour is not given. Wood - light, tough, not strong, close grained, highly shock resistant, easily worked. A strikingly white wood, it is valued for use in veneers and inlay. It weighs 36lb per cubic foot. Too small for commercial exploitation, but it is valued for use in cabinet making and the interior finishes of houses, it is also used for making small items such as tool handles. The wood can also be stained to imitate ebony.

Propagation of American 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:

Grows in a variety of soil types, but it is generally found in deep moist bottomlands. Moist woods, hedges and fields.

Known hazards of Ilex opaca:

Although no specific reports of toxicity have been seen for this species, the fruits of at least some members of this genus contain saponins and are slightly toxic. They can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and stupor if eaten in quantity. The fruits can cause violent vomiting.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.