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Holly as an Herb

Holly as an herb

Ilex spp

Other Names: Hulver Bush, Holm, Hulm, Holme Chase, Holy Tree, Christ's Thorn, Hulver Tree

Holly is one of the most important of the English evergreens, growing into a striking plant in the wintry woodland, with glossy leaves and clusters of brilliant scarlet berries. This is the same Holly we closely connect with the festivities of Christmas, which, from very early days in the history, were gathered in great quantities for Yuletide decorations, both for the Church and for the home.

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.

Holly as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

The medicinal parts of the holly are the dried foliage leaves, the fresh leaves, the young leafy branches with the ripe berries and the flowers of the branch tips with the leaves. The flowers have a weak pleasant scent. The berries are poisonous to children.

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.

Holly is used as a diuretic. Also used for coughs, digestive disorders and jaundice.

External applications include use for skin inflammations and ulcers. Infusions and decoctions, often with added herbs, are used as a gargle for oral and pharyngeal inflammation.

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.

Culinary Uses of Holly

The leaves of Holly have been employed in the Black Forest as a substitute for tea.

Paraguay Tea, so extensively used in Brazil, is made from the dried leaves and young shoots of another species of Holly. Similar properties are often found in more than one species of the same genus.

Folklore

In addition to being used as a decoration during the Christmas season, holly is used as a protective plant. Planted outside the home, it is thought to afford protection to those dwelling within. Another line of thought is if you sprinkle holly water on newborn babies, it will protect them.

In Norse mythology, holly and hazel also belonged to Thor the Thunderer, and were thought to protect people from his thunderbolts. Holly trees were planted a little distance from homes to attract lightning strikes away from the house. In Christian times, holly taken into the church for Christmas celebration (or hazel for Easter) was carried home and hung up to ward off lightning the rest of the year.

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