Here we have an extensive collection of old folk remedies using holly leaves, branches, and bark – to cure everything from Brights Disease to Whooping Cough. As with all old remedies and cures, some actually work, others are ineffective and harmless, while some are downright dangerous. So, use common sense and know what you’re doing before trying any of these.
In General: I did notice that there was a fair amount of thrashing with holly branches to cure chilblains, arthritis, and rheumatism. A good holly thrashing was even said to induce a long life. Teas were routinely concocted from the leaves for fevers, colds, flu, and even measles. Some of these remedies use holly berries which is not recommended – see caution below.
CAUTION: The berries of the holly tree are poisonous to children. They are purgative and often cause nausea and vomiting.
Arthritis: Beat arthritis with a holly spray.
Bright’s Disease: To cure Bright’s disease, put into a half-gallon of apple brandy a handful of cherry bark, persimmon bark, red holly bark, and dogwood root, and drink the solution.
Broken bones: The bark of a holly, and also the leaves, are good in fomentations for broken bones.
Bronchitis: Holly leaves are used for chronic bronchitis. (I assume as a tea.)
Chilblains: A Derbyshire cure for chilblains is to thrash them with holly. Some sources recommend keeping your feet, or legs, crossed while doing so, and the chilblains will disappear. The “crossing” is pure superstition – an ages-old antidote to the menacings of the Evil One who has thus afflicted the sufferer. But there is a sound medical basis for the thrashing, since it must cause blood circulation in the affected part, and lack of proper circulation is the primary cause of chilblains.
Cold feet: Swishing sprigs of holly over chronic cold feet relieves these.
Colds: Medicine compound for colds. The following ingredients are compounded to make a cough syrup-mullen root, wild plum bark, wild cherry bark, holly bark, green pine needles, catnip, life everlasting leaves, sourwood bark. The compound is boiled for ten or fifteen minutes until it is reduced to a thickness described as “cooked until it strings.” It is next strained through a cloth to clear it. Sugar is added. The syrup is taken regularly until the cough is better.
Cold prevention: Holly leaves gathered St. Barthelemy’s day (August 24) and drunk in a potion will protect you against colds the coming winter.
Diarrhea: If one dries holly berries and beats them into powder, they bind the body.
Fever: The leaves of holly contain ilicine, ilexanthine, ilex acid and tannic acid. A decoction of the leaves and ilicine are said to be useful in the treatment of intermittent fever. Alternatively, in 16th century France, to cure a fever, one could simply rub oneself against the first holly encountered.
Flux (including the bloody flux): If one dries Hollyberries and beats them into powder, they stop fluxes.
Gout: Holly leaves are used for gout.
Health: He-holly (spiked leaves) tea made from leaves is good for boys; she-holly (smooth edged leaves) tea for girls.
Hernia (Ruptured): In Limpfield, if an infant were badly ruptured, he would be passed naked several times backwards and forwards through a slit made in the stem of a holly tree.
Influenza: Drink holly tea. Holly bark tea is also given for influenza.
Jaundice: Decoction of holly.
Joints: The bark of the holly tree, and also the leaves, are good in fomentations for such members as are out of joint.
Lithiasis: Holly leaves are used for lithiasis.
Longevity: At Hogmany a boy, whipped with a branch of holly, may be assured that he will live a year for every drop of blood he loses.
Measles: For measles, use holly leaf tea, as Holly leaf tea will cure measles.
Menstruation: If one dries holly berries and beats them into powder, they stop the terms (menstruation) in women.
Mouth Sores: Burn holly leaves and take the ashes left and put them on the little white sores that sometimes come in the mouth, and they will get well.
Phlegm: If one eats a dozen holly berries in the morning when they are ripe and not dried, they purge the body of gross and clammy phlegm.
Protection: Sprinkle an infusion made with Holly on newborn babies to protect them.
Rheumatism: Ground holly (leaves?) made into a tea will cure rheumatism. As will beating it with a holly spray.
Rickets: To cure a child of the rickets, pass it through a cleft holly bush.
Thrush: Give doses of honey mixed with ashes of burnt holly leaves for thrush. Alternatively, you could make a salve of the ashes of a limb of holly, berries and leaves, with honey, sulphur, borax, and alum. Use after nursing.
Tonic: Holly was used as medicine and tonic. In the Southern coastal region of the United States, the Indians imbibed enormous amounts of their famous ‘black drink’ which they brewed from the leaves of yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). The drink was a violent emetic – the Indians often drank it for days so that they were scarcely able to walk. They then departed for home feeling certain that they had been fortified against disease for another year.
Tooth worms: If a worm eat the teeth, take holly rind over a year old and root of carline thistle, boil in hot water, hold in the mouth as hot as thou hottest may.
Ulcers: During the Civil War, the southern people are said to have used a tea made of the berries and bark of the yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), or holly, in the treatment of ulcers.
Whooping cough: Drink new milk out of a cup made of the wood of the variegated holly.
Disclaimer: Most of these cures are very old, passed down through generations from a time when proper medical care was nonexistent – so please use common sense – and if medical attention is needed by all means visit your physician.
Source: UCLA Folk Medicine Database