What is Ilex Aquifolium?

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  • Written By: Vasanth S.
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Ilex aquifolium is a plant that is part of the Aquifoliaceae family. It has been used in traditional or herbal medicine as a diuretic and fever reducer. Many chemicals derived from the plant, including theobromine, ursolic acid and tannins, seem to have beneficial properties and are the focus of scientific research. Parts of the ilex aquifolium are very toxic, however. The berries may cause death if consumed in a high enough quantity. This species of plant is commonly referred to as the European holly, to distinguish it from similar species of holly.

Described as an evergreen shrub or tree, ilex aquifolium grows 33-82 feet (10-25 m) in height and features a light gray bark, elliptical leaves and white or light green flowers. The flowers bloom from May to June and are followed by the growth of red berries. This species of holly is native to western and central Europe and is commonly grown with pine or oak trees.


Most of the medicinal properties of the ilex aquifolium tree are derived from the leaves, roots, and bark. Generally, a tea is prepared from the dry leaves of the European holly to treat many aliments, including symptoms of rheumatism and gout. As a diuretic, the chemicals within the leaves will reduce excess fluid in the body. Typically, several spoonfuls of dried leaves are boiled in water for several minutes, and the resulting tea is consumed. The tea is also used to treat fevers associated with the flu.

The dried bark of the ilex aquifolium tree is generally used as a bowel cleanser. Typically, it is soaked in cold water for 12 hours before the resulting solution is consumed. It is generally taken between meals to have the most effect.

One of the chemicals in the European holly with beneficial properties is theobromine. It has similar effects on the body as caffeine and generally acts as a stimulant and a diuretic. Theobromine has been shown to reduce blood pressure and relax lung muscles.

Tannins are another chemical in the plant tissue of ilex aquifolium with beneficial properties. They are commonly used to extract harmful toxins from the skin, such as the venom of bees or the irritants released by the poison oak plant. Tannins are also used to close skin cuts quickly and to prevent infection of the wound.

Ursolic acid is another chemical in the European holly that is used topically, specifically as a treatment for burns. It is used in several cosmetic products since it has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Also, it has been shown to have anti-tumor properties as well.


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