Black Alder

A genus of about 400 species of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, occurring worldwide, especially in tropical and temperate parts of Asia and N and S America. Many kinds of holly are in cultivation. One of the most widely grown is Ilex aquifolium, a very variable species, which is important as an evergreen used in Christmas decoration, an originally pagan custom symbolizing the continuation of life during winter dormancy. Several species are used medicinally. Some contain bitter compounds and stimulants, such as caffeine and theobromine, as found in tea or coffee, and cocoa. Ilex paraguariensis is more widely drunk in South America than either tea or coffee; in contains 0.2-2 percent caffeine, and 0.3-0.5 theobromine. The N American I opaca (American Holly) has been given for bronchial complaints, fevers, constipation, intestinal worms, gout, and rheumatism. The leaves are caffeine-free and usually roasted for making tea. Ilex vomitoria was important as the emetic "black drink" in native N American rituals; when roasted, the leaves can be made into tea or used for flavoring.

Large, deciduous, suckering shrub with elliptic, toothed leaved, to 7cm (3in) long. In early summer, insignificant, white flowers appear; female plants bear bright red, poisonous berries

Common Name:
Black Alder
Other Names:
Botanical Name:
Ilex verticillata syn. Prinos verticillatus
Native Location:
N America
Moist, well-drained soil in sun or shade. Variegated hollies need sun for optimum color. Ilex verticillata tolerates wet conditions. Cut back or trim in spring; clip formal specimens in summer. Prune I. paraquariensis into a low bush for ease of harvesting in the same way as tea (Camellia sinensis, See tea). Leaves may be damaged by holly leaf miner or leafspot. Transplant or repot with the root ball intact.
By seed sown in autumn (species only); by semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or autumn.
Leaves are picked in early summer (I aquifolium) and dried for infusions and liquid extracts. Leafy shoots (I. paraguarensis) may be picked at intervals throughout the year, in the same way as tea, and dried for infusions. Bark is peeled from twigs of I. verticillata in spring and dried for use in decoctions and liquid extracts.
2-5m (6-15ft)
1.2-3m (4-10ft)
Parts Used:
A bitter, astringent, antiseptic herb that has tonic and laxative effects.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for fevers, hepatitis, and jaundice. Externally for skin inflammations, herpes, and gangrenous ulcers. Combined with Ulmus rubra (See, slippery elm) for skin problems.
Berries are harmful if eaten.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pg 241-242