American Holly (Ilex opaca)

I. quercifolia. Meerb.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
American Holly
Ilex opaca

A number of cultivars of this species are used for hedging[200]. Fairly wind-resistant, this species is also used in shelterbelt plantings[200].

A dye has been made from the berries – the colour is not given[257].

Wood – light, tough, not strong, close grained, highly shock resistant, easily worked[82, 149, 171, 229]. A strikingly white wood, it is valued for use in veneers and inlay[274]. It weighs 36lb per cubic foot[235]. Too small for commercial exploitation, but it is valued for use in cabinet making and the interior finishes of houses[82], it is also used for making small items such as tool handles[149, 171, 229]. The wood can also be stained to imitate ebony[171].

  • Medicinal Use

    The berries are laxative, emetic and diuretic[222]. They are used in the treatment of children’s diarrhoea, colic and indigestion[222].

    A tea made from the leaves has been used as a treatment for measles, colds etc[222, 257]. The leaves have also been used externally in the treatment of sore eyes, sore and itchy skin[222, 257].

    A tea made from the bark was once used in the treatment of malaria and epilepsy[222]. It has also been used as a wash for sore eyes and itchy skin[257].

  • Edible Use

    The roasted leaves are used as a tea substitute[161, 177]. They do not contain caffeine[183]. The drink was a very popular tea substitute during the American Civil war[183].

  • Cautionary Notes

    Although no specific reports of toxicity have been seen for this species, the fruits of at least some members of this genus contain saponins and are slightly toxic. They can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and stupor if eaten in quantity[274]. The fruits can cause violent vomiting[222].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. It can take 18 months to germinate. Stored seed generally requires two winters and a summer before it will germinate and should be sown as soon as possible in a cold frame. Scarification, followed by a warm stratification and then a cold stratification may speed up the germination time[78, 80]. The seedlings are rather slow-growing. Pot them up into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame for their first year. It is possible to plant them out into a nursery bed in late spring of the following year, but they should not be left here for more than two years since they do not like being transplanted. Alternatively, grow them on in their pots for a second season and then plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Give them a good mulch and some protection for their first winter outdoors. Cuttings of almost ripe wood with a heel, August in a shaded position in a cold frame. Leave for 12 months before potting up. Layering in October. Takes 2 years.
Succeeds in most soils so long as they are not water-logged. Fairly wind-resistant[200]. Plants are hardy to about -25¡c[184]. A slow-growing and long-lived species in the wild[229], but it does not thrive or fruit well in British gardens[182]. Plants do not thrive in a maritime climate[188]. There are many named forms, selected for their ornamental value[182, 200]. The leaves remain on the plant for about 3 years, falling in the spring[82]. Flowers are produced on the current year’s growth[229]. Resents root disturbance, especially as the plants get older[11]. It is best to place the plants into their permanent positions as soon as possible, perhaps giving some winter protection for their first year or two[K]. Plants are very tolerant of pruning and can be cut right back into old wood if required[188]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
Eastern N. America – Massachusetts to Florida and west to Texas.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.