Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for entertainment purposes only. All thoughts and opinions are those of the author alone.
Heralding the Holly
When people mention the holly plant they are often referring to the English Holly or Christmas Holly. It’s scientific name is Ilex aquifolium. It is considered its species “type species” which is a concept I don’t fully understand. But from what I do understand Illex is Holly.
Holly’s are evergreen or deciduous plants, retaining their deep colors. In fact their leaves will live for about five years before falling off. Holly is dioecious, meaning that there are male plants and female plants. In order to know which is which, you have to wait about five years when they start to produce distinctly different flowers, and only the females produce the fruit.
This is a bountiful and hardy plant whose genus has around 480 species. I’ll be mentioning a couple of the species but the main focus will be on the Christmas Holly.
Holly History: A Brief Recap.
The Holly has played a significant role in many cultures and is still used in pop culture as well as religious cultures today.
In heraldry it signified truth and was often displayed on a coat of arms.
The Druids believed it to protect them from evil spirits and would wear holly in their hair.
The English Holly and other varieties quickly became associated with early chritian symbolism. The red berries represent the blood of Christ, the thorns represent the crown that pierced his skin, the shape is like a flame representing Christ’s burning love for his people etc.
In modern pop culture Harry Potter’s wand is made from a Holly Tree.
Back to Christmas
All you have to do is look at some holly and mistletoe joined together over an egress in the hopes that some poor fools will obligingly share a fleeting union of the lips, or the copious amount of christmas cards covering your front door or inbox, to know that the holly is closely associated with christmas.
As stated above the holly quickly became a symbol for early christians and was naturally attached to the celebration of the birth of the king.
Indeed the song “The Holy and The Ivy” is representative of Christ (holly) and Mary (Ivy) and is played and sung all during the Christmas season.
However it was believed to be bad luck if brought into the house before Christmas Eve. Not sure if this belief would extend to the artificial decorations that adorn many a wreath or mantle
This is an older superstition and is commonly disregarded today.
Holly, Holly, Everywhere.
Remember there are around 480 species of holly that grow both naturally and invasively all over the world.
The English Holly is native to the British Isles and parts of Europe. It is not native to the west coast of the US.
In the British Isles it often grows in the shade of Beech trees, and can grow in abundance.
In the US it is considered an invasive species. Due to it being a hardy plant that loves moist climates it is on the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board’s monitor list, and is a Class C invasive plant in Portland. It has a tendency to grow to such a degree that it is crowding out the native plants.
So if you live in these areas first check your local laws, and if allowed, cut some holly for the holidays.
Homesteading with Holly
All this being said. Holly plants, and there are many varieties around the world, do make wonderful yard plants as well as hedges.
They grow fairly dense and the thorny leaves encourage animals and people to not trespass. Because Holly’s retains its color throughout winter, it can help brighten many yards when everything else is in the midst of the winter sleep.
They are fairly easy to manage as they can be cut to maintain the hedge shape, even when severely cut back they will continue to flourish.
Holly For The Tummy
The Christmas Holly is toxic, in fact even 20 berries can be fatal to young children who are more prone to accidental consumption due to its bright red fruit being so attractive.
However there are Holly plants that have parts that are suitable for human consumption.
The Ilex paraguariensis or Yerba Mate is a popular tea due to the caffeine and other nutrients found in this holly plant.
Another that was extremely popular with native americans is Ilex vomitoria or the Yaupon Holly. This holly is another that can have its young leaves and twigs brewed for tea rich in caffeine and other nutrients.
It doesn’t make you vomit. Early native americans used to induce vomiting after drinking. The reasons are unclear but may be attributed to having additional ingredients added.
This tea was a favorite for ceremonies and to offer guests.
It was used until the early 20th century and is still brewed by some today.
Holy Holly for the Holiday.
While you won’t be brewing up a cup of tea from you Christmas Holly (have some yerba mate instead), you can still hang it on your door or around your house come Christmas eve.
Knowing it is rich in some beautiful symbolism, helps us to better remember the reason for Christmas.
Tall firs with presents beneath are nice to have but if we forget why we are celebrating then we have forgotten the babe in the manger and the man who gave all for all of us.
Happy Holly-days to all.