Legend has it that the crown of thorns place on the head of Jesus before his crucifixion was made from twigs cut from holly and the red fruits symbolized his blood.
Another legend declares that holly first emerged from the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and its thorny leaves and red fruits are symbolical of his sufferings. In Norway, Sweden, and Denmark the herb’s common name is
“kristtorn” meaning “Christ’s thorn”.
Holly has had a place in rituals and religious ceremonies for thousands of years. Because the leaves stay green in winter the Celts and Anglo-Saxons beveled it was surrounded by a mysterious force.
In many countries, it is tradition to make Christmas ornaments with holly and wreaths placed above entrances was said to bring happiness and goodwill.
Holly Uses as a Medicinal Herb
The leaves are believed to have diuretic, laxative and sudorific (induce sweating) properties but in today’s herbal medicine holly is rarely used.
The herb has sometimes been used internally in the form of a hot tea to reduce fever, treat bronchitis, common cold and some digestive disorders. It is also thought to be helpful as a blood purifying tonic for chronic rheumatic ailments and disorders. In addition, an extract made from the fresh leaves has been used to treat jaundice.
Some believe that the leaves can be used as a tea substitute in the same way as the closely related South American species yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis),
The leaves of holly do contain the stimulant substances caffeine and theobromine but not to the same extent as yerba mate.
The fruits have different properties to the leaves. They are rather poisonous and can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea (emetic and purgative), but despite this, they have been used traditionally as an herbal remedy for dropsy or edema (fluid retention). Furthermore, the powdered fruits have an astringent (contracting) effect and have been used to halt bleeding.
Due to the fruit’s toxic effects, they should not be used internally.