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"Sacred Holly" ~ The Ilex Genus

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~ “Sacred Holly” - The Ilex Genus ~

*Ilex aquifolium ~ “European Holly”

*Ilex cassine ~ “Dahoon Holly”

*Ilex cornuta ~ “Chinese Holly”

*Ilex glabra ~ “Bitter Gallberry”, “Inkberry“, "Appalachian Tea", "Evergreen Winterberry"

*Ilex guayusa ~ “Guayusa”

*Ilex kudingcha ~ "Kudingcha" or "Ku Ding Cha"

*Ilex latifolia ~ "Lusterleaf Holly" or "Tarajo Holly"

*Ilex macropoda ~ “日本語: アオハダ" or “Japanese ??? Holly”

*Ilex opaca ~ “American Holly”

*Ilex paraguariensis ~ “Yerba Mate”

*Ilex pubescens ~ "Mao-Dōng-Qīng"

*Ilex purpurea ~ "Dōng-Qīng"

*Ilex rotunda ~ "Kurogane Holly"

*Ilex tarapotina ~ “Té O’ Maté”

*Ilex vomitoria ~ “Yaupon Holly”

*Ilex yunnanensis ~ “Yunnan Holly”


Since ancient times humans have known the Holly to contain magical, healing and sacred qualities. Hollies have been utilized by many different cultures throughout the world for various purposes, perhaps the most interesting relationship between plants of the Ilex genus and humanity is their usage as stimulants, in rituals and as purgatives.

~~~~~~~~~~Species of Interest~~~~~~~~~~

***Ilex aquifolium ~ “European Holly”***

Ilex aquifloium is known as the “Common Holly”, the “European/English Holly” or sometimes “Christ’s Thorn”. The leaves of Ilex aquifloium have been employed in the Black Forest as a substitute for tea. Ilex aquifloium is little used in modern herbalism. The leaves are diaphoretic, expectorant, febrifuge and tonic. They can be use fresh at almost any time of the year or can be harvested in late spring and dried for later use. They are used in the treatment of intermittent fevers, rheumatism, catarrh, pleurisy etc. The juice of the fresh leaves has been successfully used in the treatment of jaundice. The berries are violently emetic and purgative. They have been used in the treatment of dropsy and as a powder they have been used as an astringent to check bleeding. The berries are semi-toxic, especially to children. The root has been used as a diuretic.

***Ilex cassine~ “Cassina”***

Ilex cassine (and/or Ilex dahoon) also known by the common name of “Dahoon Holly” is often confused with Ilex vomitoria or “Yaupon Holly”. It is improbable that Ilex cassine was ever utilized by Native Americans or European settlers even though some sources cite it’s usage, this is like due to early chroniclers confusing the Ilex cassine(“Dahoon Holly”) with the Ilex vomitoria (“Yaupon Holly”). There are reports of this plant being used as a soap, but it is doubtful that this plant is of any true ethnobotanical importance. I have only included it to distinguish it from Ilex vomitoria.

Ilex cornuta ~ “Chinese Holly”

Some Chinese herbalist may use it as a traditional medicine, the tea is supposedly a contraceptive for women. It is reputed that the berries are edible, but it is unknown if the fruit is truly safe if eaten. The Chinese use Ilex cornuta in a variety of ways, the bark, leaves and fruit are used in herbal medicine for their general tonic value as well as for diseases of the kidney. The seed oil is used in China for soap manufacturing and a dye and gum are extracted from the bark. The whole plant is aborficant, carminative, contraceptive, febrifuge and tonic. It particularly strengthens the back and knees. The leaf is made into a tea which is said to be contraceptive if used by women and is also used for termination pregnancies. The stem bark is tonic. The whole plant is used in the treatment of arthritis, recurring fever in pulmonary tuberculosis, tubercular lymph nodes, joint pained and lumbago.

***Ilex glabra ~ “Gallberry“, "Appalachian Tea”, “Inkberry" or “Evergreen Winterberry“***

Ilex glabra or "Gallberry" is a species of Holly native to the Eastern and the Southern United States and extreme southern portions of Canada. It’s leaves are prepared by drying, steaming or roasting (these processes are said to reduce any possible nausea). Ilex glabra is also collected by bees which produces a high quality, pleasant tasting honey. Historically it was used to treat fevers and may have other medicinal applications.

Most report that this plant is caffeine free, but a few scattered references state that it contains small amounts of caffeine.

***Ilex guayusa ~ “Guayusa”***

Ilex guayusa, also know as “Guayusa” or “Wuayusa” is a Sacred Holly of South America, being native to the jungles of the Amazon. This tree is the source of the stimulant drink “Guayusa“. In the Ecuadorian Amazon it is taken to along with “Ayahuasca” (Banisteriopsis caapi) and is said to be drunk to "kill the bitter taste", "prevent hangover" and to “stay alert during the ceremony”. It is likewise said to "give strength to deal with Ayahuasca“. The tea is further stated to be efficacious for "stomach problems, and to have aphrodisiac properties." The native inhabitants of the region of Mocoa employ guayusa in decoction for numerous medicinal purposes: "pain in the liver", malarial fevers, syphilis and especially to calm stomach pains and to regulate faulty menstruation. A tea of leaves is used as a stimulant. Leaves of guayusa are still sold in markets as a tea and medicine. Except for its caffeine content, nothing further is known about the chemistry of the Amazonian species, but it seems to be highly complex containing many compounds in addition to caffeine which likely contribute to it’s medicinal properties.

***Ilex latifolia ~ "Lusterleaf Holly" or "Tarajo Holly"***

Ilex latifolia leaves are made into tea in Asia. The fruit and/or seed is used as a coffee substitute. Ilex latifolia also plays a lesser role in the production “Kudingcha Tea”

Ilex macropoda ~ "日本語: アオハダ" or “Japanese ??? Holly”

A tea is made from the leaves, little other information known.

***Ilex opaca ~ “American Holly”***

It is also reported that Ilex opaca was used as a tea substitute during the American Civil War. The berries are laxative, emetic and diuretic. They are used in the treatment of children's diarrhea, colic and indigestion. A tea made from the leaves has been used as a treatment for measles, colds etc. The leaves have also been used externally in the treatment of sore eyes, sore/bruises and itchy skin. A tea made from the bark was once used in the treatment of malaria and epilepsy. The roasted leaves can be used as a tea substitute, however they do not contain caffeine.

***Ilex kudingcha ~ "Kudingcha" or "Ku Ding Cha"***

Ilex kudingcha is used in Asia to produce a type of “Tea” known as “Kudingcha”, “Ku Ding Cha” or sometimes “Kudincha”

***Ilex paraguariensis ~ “Yerba Mate”***

The Ilex paraguariensis or "Yerba Mate" plant is native to native to subtropical South America in northeastern Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and southern Brazil.. It is a large shrub or small tree growing up to 15 meters tall. The leaves are evergreen, 7–11 cm long and 3–5.5 cm wide, with a serrated margin. The flowers are small, greenish-white, with four petals. The fruit is a red drupe 4–6 mm in diameter. It has been traditionally used for 1000s of years by the people of South America. Ilex paraguariensis is the most widely used Ilex species on Earth for human consumption, with 100s of 1000s of people drinking it each morning in South American and increasingly in the modern world.

Harvest- Baron Ernst Von Bibra, in his famous classic “Plant Intoxicants” reports that there are “allegedly three kinds of Paraguayan tea… which are all prepared from the same leaves… under varying conditions, very different teas can be may be obtained from the same plant” with the harvesting, processing, climate and other conditions effecting what type is produced. Bibra continues in saying “”Caa-cuys‘, prepared from half-opened leaves, and hence similar to Chinese Imperial tea, is said not to keep well and is only used in Paraguay. “Caa-miri” is prepared by picking off the leaves, removing the leaf nerves, and then drying the leaves as indicated above. Finally, “Caa-puaza”, the third tea, is obtained from completely mature leaves that are immediately dried and roasted.”

Ilex pubescens ~ "Mao-Dōng-Qīng"

The root is anti-inflammatory, antitussive, depurative, expectorant and febrifuge. It causes a strong and persistent dilation of the blood vessels, increasing the blood flow to the coronary artery, lowering blood pressure and reducing oxygen consumption of the cardiac muscles. It is used in the treatment of Buerger's disease, angina pectoris, acute myocardial infarction, tonsillitis, acute bronchitis with cough and sputum, hypertension. It has an antibacterial action against both gram positive and negative bacilli. The plant is vasodilator, hypertensive. It has been used successfully in the treatment of severe chest pains due to coronary problems.

***Ilex purpurea ~ "Dōng-Qīng"***

Ilex purpurea is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is know as "Dōng-Qīng". It is reported to have anti-tumor properties. An extract of the leaves is made into a solution and used for treating burns, ulcers, etc. The ashes of the leaves are used as a dressing for skin ailments and poisoned wounds. Seed is carminative and tonic.

****Ilex rotunda ~ "Kurogane Holly"”***

The stem bark is detoxicant. The plant is used for its haemostatic action (sometimes combined with other botanicals).

***Ilex tarapotina ~ “Té O’ Maté”***

Ilex tarapotina is used in northern Peru to make a special type of “Maté” known as “Té O’ Maté” which is said to produce unknown, possibly inebriating effects.

***Ilex vomitoria ~ “Yaupon Holly” or “Black Drink”***

“Yaupon Holly” or Ilex vomitoria is a large shrub or small tree which grows along the coast of the South-Eastern USA. It has small green leaves with scalloped margins. “Yaupon” is evergreen and in the Fall it produces bright red berries which make a handsome plant when contrasting with the grey mottled bark and green leaf. In the wild Ilex vomitoria rarely grows more than 30 miles from the seashore. It likes to inhabit sandy dune hammocks near the coastline often growing in harsh conditions blow by winds and sprayed by salt. Since “Yaupon” is often used in landscaping many varieties, strains and cultivars exist, however the forms of ethnobotanical interest are two forms of Ilex vomitoria which are reputed to have the highest caffeine content : Ilex vomitoria “Weeping Holly” also known as Ilex vomitoria forma “Pendula” the other is??? “Yaupon” will grow in almost any type of soil available in the Southern United States, however, they prefer a well drained, sandy soil with a bit of organic matter. Plants with more nitrogen in the soil seem to produce more caffeine. Seeds should be removed from the berry before germination, note that “Yaupon” seeds may take up to 1-2 years to sprout in some cases, especially if the seeds are old. Like most shrubs and trees, it’s best to plant them in the Fall. Most Hollies require little watering once established, hand water seedlings and small plants. Ilex vomitoria is resistant to most pests, only “Leaf-Miner” and a rare few others could pose a threat. Harvest should not begin until the plant is well established, at least 3 years old, but ideally it should be around 7 years of age. “Yaupon” is a long term crop, requiring many years before peak production. Harvest in the spring when new young shoots sprout off the old growth. Ideally only small bright green leaf and thin tender branch tips should be harvested. Some say harvest is best in winter due to higher caffeine content, but this is unconfirmed. Dr. William A. Morrill PHD, wrote in the 1940s there are two main ways to make “Yaupon Tea”. The first is to boil the heat dried leaves, not steep the leaves like “Green Tea” (Camellia), but he said the best “Yaupon Holly Tea” was to use a mix of equal parts dry brown roasted leaf along with steamed green leaf. Both fermented and unfermented “green” forms of “Yaupon” have been used, it’s all mostly a matter of preference.

~~~History of “Yaupon”~~~

The history of the Sacred “Yaupon” Holly is ancient, obscure and mysterious possibly dating as far back as ???? B.C.E. or ???? Years ago!

Many sources report that Ilex vomitoria and the “Yaupon Holly“ or "Black Drink" are still in use to a limited extent in the modern day as a beverage and medicine among inhabitants of the North Carolina coast and Outer Banks. It is said that "Yaupon Holly Tea" may still be found on the menus of some restaurants in the Outer Banks, however, the ritual use of the "Black Drink" seems to have completely died out with modern drinkers only using a mild brew as a tea-like beverage. Yet with subsequent expeditions to the Outer Banks over the past 3 years I have failed to produce any evidence what-so-ever that “Yaupon” is still used in any capacity at all.

“Yaupon” is native to south-eastern North America occurring from Virginia south to Florida and west to Texas, yet small population of “Yaupon” is also said to grow in Chiapas, Mexico. It is unknown why this plant is so far away from other populations of “Yaupon“, could this be one of the Ilex vomitoria plantations transplanted by ancient Americans?

***Ilex yunnanensis ~ “Yunnan Holly”***

Ilex yunnanensis also know as “Yunnan Holly” is employed in parts of Asia, a variety called Ilex yunnanensis var. eciliata is used along the boarder of China and Tibet as a Tea substitute.

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thanks teotz nice read.


Ilex tarapotina sounds intriguing

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Also the book "Black Drink: A Native American Tea" by Charles M. Hudson and "Ilex Cassine: The aboriginal North American tea : its history, distribution, and use among the native American Indians (Bulletin / U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Division of Botany)" by Edwin Moses Hale (1891).

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hope y'all enjoy.

Edited by Teotzlcoatl

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if anybody has anymore info on the ilex genus im missing please post it here

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I was going to post a full report of my experience collecting and researching "Yaupon Holly" in the Carolina's "Outer Banks" at the Nook but they banned me. I guess I'll post it here instead.

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In this video you can see a live Ilex guayusa plant-

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Holly is one of my favourite trees. The plant seems out of the normal scheme of things

when it grows in cold areas. It almost looks like a tropical plant with its smooth bark,

evergreen leaves and abundant fruits but will tolerate even heavy snow.

I had a few false starts with Mate, really didn't like it for a long time.

A good way to prepare it is in a plunger with a couple of big spoons of sugar

and about one quarter of milk thrown in to brew.

Yum and the resulting tea has more of a rich aromatic quality.

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I am really interested in finding Ilex kudingcha seeds.... but this seems very difficult. 

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Ilex vomitoria ~ “Yaupon Holly” grows in GREAT ABUNDANCE in my area. Pretty plant, looks like a small oak tree in foliage but come winter it’s leafless and covered in bright red berries. The Karankawa Indians would drink it. 

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Awesome! Have you tried preparing it into a drink? Or growing it?

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I have not and have no reason for not having tried it. I read about it years ago.  I’ll tell you what. I’ll collect some next week and brew a tea and report back. Might even become my morning pep me up.

First thing in morning(next week) 

I’ll weigh out the fresh leafs and let them soak/simmer for awhile. Probably play a few games of backgammon. I’ll ingest tea and see what happens. 


I do not have it growing in my garden mostly because it’s everywhere. I’m in zone 9a/b. It’s hot, humid/wet, winters are mild(usually), soil is dense. ‘Gumbo clay’ Is the local slang. But areas are sandy loam too 

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Let me know if you ever try it!

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