Holly Symbolism and Benefits

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Learn more about holly symbolism, its roots in pagan traditions and beliefs, and its beneficial uses on this episode.Ever wondered why holly is associated with Christmas? What even is holly, really? Learn more about holly symbolism, its roots in pagan traditions and beliefs, and its beneficial uses on this episode.

Holly Symbolism and Historic Roots

Ilex aquifolium, or the Holly tree, is a small evergreen tree with deeply lobed, waxy, prickled leaves native to Europe. Its leaves somewhat resemble oak leaves. It has light colored bark and deep red, toxic berries. It has long been considered sacred in Celtic mythology and ancient druidic beliefs. They believe holly symbolizes peace, goodwill, and good luck. Therefore, they also believed that holly protected them from evil spirits and bad luck. Chieftains wore a wreath of holly as a sort of good luck charm.  And, because it resists lightning, they would plant it near their homes to protect themselves from lightning strikes.

The ancient Romans believed holly was the sacred plant of Saturn, the Roman god of the harvest. They gave sprigs of holly as gifts during the Saturnalia festival, which led up to the winter solstice of December 25, the birth of the “Sun.” As Christianity spread, December 25 became a celebration of the Son of God instead, but the holly tradition remained. In addition, Christians adopted holly symbolism into their beliefs. They claimed that the thorny leaves of holly symbolize the crown of thorns of Christ’s crucifixion, the berries representing his blood. In addition, the evergreen nature of holly symbolizes eternal life.

Hear a few other stories about holly on the podcast. On a more practical note, the wood of this tree makes beautiful, artistic designs and people sometimes use it to make chess sets and tool handles. Carriage drivers also used horse whips made from holly, as holly seemed to have an interesting controlling effect on the horses.

Holly Benefits

Holly is not really used in modern herbalism. Historically, people used the leaves as a diaphoretic, febrifuge, and expectorant for things like fever, rheumatism, and bronchitis. One famous herbalist, Nicolas Culpepper said that the bark and leaves are good for broken bones and other members that are out of joint. The fresh juice has been recommended for jaundice. The ancients also used it for fevers and such, but the berries cause violent vomiting and should not be used, especially with children. Julie talks about some of the active constituents of holly on the podcast, so be sure to listen!

Discover weird facts about Christmas herbs and check out her Secret Spice book.

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