Holly Fact File.
Holegn ( Anglo-saxon). Holin (middle English to become Holm/Hulver) Hussetum (medieval Latin)
A third of a wheel is holly for it is one of three timbers of the chariot wheel.
Third of a wheel.
A third of weapons, an iron bar.
Fires of coal.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Holly is a widespread tree but is less common in Eastern England and East Scotland. Holly is considered bad luck to cut, the result of which has possibly made it the commonest hedgerow tree in East Anglia. Holly wood can be sanded to a beautiful white finish and is hard, strong and durable making it ideal for cogs used in machinery. The close grained wood makes it ideal for carving and turnery. Holly foliage has been used for fodder for both sheep and deer.
Its wood also makes good charcoal. Spears and chariot shafts were also made from Holly.
Holly is an important tree, a specialty of the British Isles, an example of a evergreen broad-leaved tree rare outside of Britain, just like the Strawberry tree is in South-West Ireland. This inevitably means ancient Holly sites must be protected. Holly woods include sites in Epping, the New Forest, Sherrard’s Park Wood and the grandest stand is in Staverton Park.
Holly thrives in the west usually on acid soils, although as with many native species there are exceptions. Holly will both cast and tolerate shade. It is one of the few species which has actually profited from woodcutting rights that were terminated in 1878 due to its shade tolerance. Holly regeneration is increasing as grazing declines. Holly has a poor flora but can be rich in bryophytes. It also provides shelter and food for mammals and birds as well as providing nectar for insects.
Holly’s strongest traditions are around the time of the winter solstice as the Holly is the King of the waning year and at this time he reaches his zenith. At the winter solstice the Holly King duels with the Oak King and symbolically dies allowing the Oak, the King of the waxing year to court the Goddess.
This dual repeats itself in the summer solstice when the Holly King wins and precedes again over the waning year. The oak and the holly representing the play of light and dark at the time of the longest and shortest day.
Holly speaks of tenacity, a refusal to give up and its evergreen leaves lift one’s spirits and shelter the fairies and elves. It is said it is safe to bring Holly foliage into the house at the time of the Winter Solstice (21st/22nd December) as the nature spirits are not going to harm you provided they are removed by Imbolc
In some parts of Europe Holly is known as ‘Christ’s thorn’ as the thorny leaves and red berries represent the suffering of Christ and the passion of his message.
The Green Knight from the Arthurian tales has a Holly club and perhaps represents the challenging Holly giant. Nadcranntail, a famous warrior of Irish stories carried nine holly spears charred and sharpened as did Mannanan Mac lir the Irish Sea God.
The weaving sisters who reside at the base of the Tree of Life are said use holly spindles to weave the threads of life that govern our destiny.
The twelfth night known as holy night may have originally been known as Holly night and the strongman of the village carried a heavy holly branch through the streets as part of a procession on this night. Holly is considered to be a guardian against evil spirits, poisons, short-tempered angry elementals, thunder and lightning.
The Ogham name Tinne means a link as in a chain or a bridge but to where? Maybe the Other-world, as the kennings for this tree point to the otherworldly character of the Holly Ogham and it is regarded as a pivotal point for the other letters and an in-between state of life and death.
Medicinally holly leaves can be used to induce a sweat and therefore rid the body of poisons and fevers. The berries are a purgative and if dried and powdered can help relieve diarrhea and heavy menstrual flow.
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Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.