Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Holly

1. [Stroud area] Prickly holly (he-holly) and smooth holly (she-holly), whichever is taken into the house first that sex is dominant [Hilltop Garden Club, Eastcombe, Gloucestershire, December 2013].

2. [1940s] Holly was considered a good remedy for chilblains by tanning the chilblains with a small twig. We had chilblains in the wintertime and I think one pain must have camouflaged the other, but we did it [Tregaer, Monmouthshire, October 2013].

3. Go for shelter under a holly tree as lightning doesn’t strike holly [Whitstable, Kent, January 2012].

4. It will bring bad luck to cut down any holly tree that bears its red berries, whilst a thick holly hedge is greatly prized by many of the older people [Alston, Devon, August 2011].

5. From my childhood, 80 years back … Don’t take holly in before Christmas Eve [Ipswich, Suffolk, July 2011].

6. Holly wreaths – natural leaves with wired on artificial berries – on sale at the Columbia Road Flower Market, Tower Hamlets, London, Sunday 12 December 2010. There seemed to be very little holly for sale in London this Christmas [Image: Francesco Cillini].

7. When she was a little girl living in Bristol in the 1910s (she was born in 1911) if she came across a holly bush while out she would select a leaf and count off the spikes saying ‘My mother is calling me/ My mother is not calling me’, etc. If the last spike was ‘my mother is calling me’ she would run home absolutely convinced that their mother needed her [Cambridge, September 1999].

8. I think the belief is widespread among farming communities that it is unlucky to trim all the holly in a hedge and that one at least should be allowed to grow to its full height [Glasbury-on-Wye, Herefordshire, February 1998].

9. I was talking to a man yesterday who uses wands of holly wood to drive ghosts, evil spirits and illness from dwellings, etc. [Sisland, Norfolk, March 1997].

10. My father was born in a small village in north Devon and was very superstitious …
A branch of holly would be used to lacerate chilblains and effect a cure [Keyham, Plymouth, January 1993].

11. Holly on sale at the Columbia Road Flower Market, December 1998 [Image: A.R. Vickery].

12. [Shropshire] An aunt … would not have holly in the house until Christmas Day, as she said it brought bad luck [Bessacarr, South Yorkshire, April 1984].

13. Many holly berries mean a hard winter (that would have come from my mother, born Lichfield, 1916) [Stratton, Dorset, September 1983].

Main image: St Ethelbert’s churchyard, Littledean, Gloucestershire; September 2015.