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American Holly


    Scientific Names

    Holly
    • Ilex opaca Ait.
    • Holly family

    Common Names

    ivyHolly
    ivyWhite holly
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    Parts Usually Used

    Young leaves, fresh or dried, and bark
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    Description of Plant(s) and Culture

    Evergreen tree; grows to 90 feet tall. Leaves, smooth, leathery; with few to many spine-tipped teeth. The dark green leaves are alternate, elliptical, and spiny. White flowers grow in axillary clusters, those on the female plants developing into scarlet, berry-like drupes that remain through the winter. Flowering time from May to June. Flowers are followed by clusters of round red berries in midwinter. Fruits red or orange (rarely yellow); Bark is smooth and grayish-brown. Sprigs are familiar Christmas decoration. Berries are poisonous, will induce violent vomiting.

    Other varieties: Mountain holly (Ilex aquifolium) also called English holly or European holly; Indian black drink (Ilex vomitoria) also called black drink plant, emetic holly, and yaupon holly; Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) also called black-alder, brook alder, false alder, feverbush, and striped alder; Yerba Mate` (Ilex paraguariensis ) also called Mate`, Paraguay tea, and Yerba.
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    Where Found

    White holly is a native North American evergreen tree or shrub found along the Atlantic coast. Mixed woods. Eastern Massachusetts to Florida; Texas, Oklahoma to Illinois.
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    Medicinal Properties

    Diuretic, purgative, astringent, expectorant, reduces fever.
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    Legends, Myths and Stories

    The powers of evil hated the yew and found the holly equally obnoxious, the reason being that the yew was generally found growing in churchyards and the word “holly” is similar in sound to the word “holy”. To the early Christians, however, the thorny foliage and flaming red berries of the holly represented the crown of thorns with drops of blood falling to the ground. They claimed this to be the true reason the herb was magically protective when brought into the home, shielding mortals from evil spirits that wandered over the land during bleak winter months.

    Pliny said that the branches of the holly tree defend the house from lightning, and men from witchcraft.

    According to other legends, holly blessed the home with prosperity and good fortune provided the plant was not removed from the Christmas decorations until the New Year, and in some countries it was never disturbed until Candlemas Day (February 2).

    The Chinese know a holly (Ilex pedunculosa) that they call Tung-ch’ing.
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    Uses

    Native Americans chewed berries for colic, indigestion. Leaf tea for measles, colds, flu, pneumonia; drops for sore eyes. Externally, for sores, itching. Chewing only 10-12 berries acts as a strong laxative, emetic, and diuretic. Bark tea once used in malaria and epilepsy.

    The liquid obtained from boiling holly leaves in water can be used to reduce fever. It is also used as a remedy for bronchitis, arthritis, and rheumatism.

    White holly seems to have been used in the past primarily as a means of cleansing the system by promoting the proper elimination of waste products from the body.
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    Warning

    Fruits considered mildly poisonous, inducing violent vomiting and are dangerous to small children. Use under medical supervision.

    Most holly plants are considered to have poisonous fruits to one degree or another. Caution should be taken where children are concerned.
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    Bibliography

    Buy It! The Herb Book, by John Lust, Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. copyright 1974.

    Buy It! Chinese Medicinal Herbs, compiled by Shih-Chen Li, Georgetown Press, San Francisco, California, 1973.

    Buy It! Culpeper's Complete Herbal & English Physician: Updated With 117 Modern Herbs, by Nicholas Culpeper, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, 1990, (reprint of 1814)

    Buy It! Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke., Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10000

    Buy It! The Herbalist Almanac, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, copyright 1988, fifth printing, 1994

    Buy It! Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, Victoria Neufeldt, Editor in Chief, New World Dictionaries: A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 15 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10023

    Buy It! An Instant Guide to Medicinal Plants, by Pamela Forey and Ruth Lindsay, Crescent Books (January 27, 1992).

    Buy It! The Rodale Herb Book: How to Use, Grow, and Buy Nature's Miracle Plants (An Organic gardening and farming book), edited by William H. Hylton, Rodale Press, Inc. Emmaus, PA, 18049., 1974

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