Holly includes about 400 species in the genus Ilex. The cultivated species is Ilex aquifolium, and about 20 or 30 of those bright berries can kill an adult. Poisonings are more likely in pets or children, and about five berries will make a kid feel sick.
It’s the usual suspects in symptoms – sleepiness, sore tummy, vomiting, diarrhoea. Larger doses cause paralysis, kidney damage and death.
Chemically, they contain a cocktail of active ingredients. Among them are the triterpenes, precursors to steroids which are cytotoxic (kill cells), steroids and a nitrile called menisdaurin.
Traditional medicines use holly for fever, gout and chronic bronchitis.
A couple of species native to North America, I. vomitoria aka yaupon and I. cassine, make caffeine and were used to make “black drink”, a stimulating brew also used as a vomit-causing emetic.
South American species I. paraguariensis contains as much as 1.6% caffeine (five times more than the above species) and some of the cocoa chemical theobromine in their leaves, and tasty tannins.
Also called yerba mate, I. paraguariensis is brewed to make mate tea, which is delicious. It’s pronounced MAH-tay, but be careful not to put the emphasis on the second syllable. Wikipedia says that makaes mah-TAY, which means “I killed” in Spanish.
So it’s fine to have a sprig of holly in the house for Christmas, just don’t make a holly pie out of it!
I drink Yerba Mate tea when I need to study! I mix it with a dash of chamomile and some chai and voila! I get super concentratey without the jitters.
In fact, my new uni serves mate chai in their library cafe.
Don’t drink too MUCH or HOT…it’s been associated with oral, throat and aesophogeal cancer. Might be better to get you caffeine with a coffee. : )
February 3rd, 2012 at 3:56 am
@Melisse Clark, Well that’s just terrifying. I’m sure someone somewhere has associated coffee with cancer. Also coffee gives me superbad headaches.
February 3rd, 2012 at 9:45 am
@Melisse Clark, I’ve heard (and haven’t yet checked) that those cancers are associated with drinking ANYTHING that’s very hot. So maybe we should all switch to ice tea?