Holly Tree Symbolism and Meanings

 7 min read

The holly plant is incredibly old and can be found all over the world. It’s shrouded in tradition and mystery, with various cultures across the globe holding different ceremonies or rituals involving the plant.

For example, Druids would decorate with holly at the winter solstice, Romans would use holly branches in their Saturnalia celebrations, and Brazilian rainforest inhabitants drink a sacred tea made from yerba mate leaves – which is a species of holly. (Note: many types of holly are poisonous to humans).

Even outside of ancient traditions or cultural rites, mainstream society also associates holly with magic; for instance, Harry Potter’s wand was made out of Holly wood.

Holy tree symbolism is also deeply linked to Christianity, with holly being a symbol of immortality and eternal life. From this perspective, the red berries on the holly plant symbolize Christ’s blood, and the sharpness of the leaves represents how sin can hurt but not destroy someone who follows Jesus.

Through the symbolism of its spiky, red-fruited foliage, some associate holly with Christ’s Passion and the bloody crown.

Symbolism:The sword of truth
Divine Associations:The Green Man (Pagan), Jesus (Christian)
Astrological Association:Mars
Superstition:According to a 19th-century Swiss legend, palm trees whose fronds had been used to welcome Christ to Jerusalem turned into spiny hollies when the crowd shouted “Crucify Him!” Therefore, holly is associated with the devil in the French tradition.

About Holly Trees

Holly Tree Branch
Holly Tree Branch

Ilex, better known as Holly trees, is a deciduous or evergreen tree found in temperate and tropical areas across the globe. With approximately 400 different species of holly bushes and trees, these plants vary greatly in leaf shape margins, flowers (which can be white-greenish), and appearance overall.

Most interestingly, however, holly bushes are dioecious which means that male and female reproductive organs are contained within separate individuals of the same species.

The common holly (I. aquifolium) typically grows to be a small tree or bush, but in some cases can reach up to 50ft (15m). It is native to areas including western and southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia.

Central and Eastern European countries see stunted growth in the plant due to colder winter climates. The leaves can grow up to 2in (5cm) long; the small white flowers are fragrant and the globose fruits are bright red.

Practical Uses

The wood of holly has been widely used for carving arrows by the Seminole tribe in North America, while in Europe and Western Asia, it has mostly been utilized for crafting veneers and inlays.

The plant is also commonly grown to create hedges, as birds often eat the berries during wintertime.

Natural Healing

Some holly leaves can be dried and brewed into a tea-like beverage. Ilex paraguariensis is used to make maté, which is popular in South America.

Meanwhile, the Iroquois tribe in North America use decoctions of the grey holly’s bark (Ilex verticillata) for healing purposes and as an emetic or purgative. The Tsalagi also use leaf infusions as an emetic but also “evoke ecstasies” through sacred hallucinations.

However, all parts of the holly plant are poisonous so one should never consume it without professional guidance.

The Bach Flower Remedy of holly can help to dissipate anger, jealousy and envy. The tree essence can also calm these symptoms, bringing peace that does not compromise assertiveness or well-being. If you’re wanting to feel more balanced and at ease, consider this natural remedy!

Folklore, Myth and Symbol of Holly Trees

Holly Tree Branches
Holly Tree Branches

In Welsh mythology, the beautiful goddess Creiddylad represents the sun. The knights of the waxing and waning year fight over her, symbolizing the conflict between light and dark, summer and winter.

From midwinter to midsummer, when the days get longer, the sky god rules. His symbol of power is the deciduous oak tree. From midsummer to midwinter, when the days grow shorter, the god of darkness reclaims control of the sun. His tree is the holly – linked to spirits of vegetation such as Green Men.

In medieval Christianity, John the Baptist was linked to the oak tree and Jesus with holly. The term “holly” originates from Anglo-Saxon “holegn” and Old High German “hulis”, meaning sanctified or holy.

As a result, holly became customary in church proceedings, such as when taking palms’ place on Palm Sunday or being used as a Christmas decoration—particularly in Britain since it’s one of few native evergreens there.

Holly Tree Symbolism and Meanings

Bird sitting on Holly Tree branch
Bird sitting on Holly Tree branch


For centuries, people have used holly leaves to create a magical elixir that warms the body and soul during the darkest months of the year. This energizing tea is made from mate, a variety of holly containing caffeine and theobromine (also found in chocolate), minerals, and amino acids.

Mate tea provides not just energy but also a sense of euphoria—and it can now be purchased at most health food stores.


Edward Bach, the creator of flower essence remedies, stated that holly is useful for those who are “attacked by thoughts of such kind as jealousy, envy, revenge, and suspicion”.

He says that these individuals may often feel unhappy even when there isn’t a real cause. To have an open heart and a generally positive outlook on life, therapists recommend taking this essence regularly.

Moreover, if you spend time around a holly tree or bring her leaves, branches, and berries into your home (or place them on your altar), you can help surround yourself and your household with positive energy.

This can be helpful when trying to get rid of bickering, arguing, gossiping, resentment, negative expectations, or any other instance of disharmony.


For centuries, people have used holly to guard against negativity, harm, and wrongdoing. It’s said that if you throw holly in the direction of a wild animal, it will deter the attack. Moreover, having holly in your yard supposedly protects against lightning strikes and evil spirits.

In ancient Persia and India childbirth, customs included blessing newborns with water mixed with holly bark extract; as a modern equivalent of this practice, you could add a drop or two of diluted holly flower essence to water and lightly sprinkle it on a baby’s head.

Some birds use spiky-leaved holly trees for protection against predators by hiding in their branches. This is especially helpful for the species of birds that eat the tree’s fruit, which is poisonous to humans but not to birds.


Holly wood has long been used in weaponry, appearing in myths and history alike. The American Indians and Europeans would use holly arrows and spears in battle.

Even these berries that resemble drupes have a fiery energy to them, similar to the warrior planet Mars. This likely contributed to many victories while armed with holly weaponry.


What is the legend of the holly tree?

There are many legends about the holly tree that date back to ancient times. One of the most popular is that of the Holly King, a powerful god associated with the sun, light, and growth.

According to this legend, during the winter months when days are short and dark, the Holly King battles with the Oak King—a god associated with growth and prosperity.

Each year, the seasons change in a symbolic battle between these two deities, who represent the opposing forces of light and darkness.

The holly tree is often associated with this legend, as its bright red berries and dark green leaves represent both light and darkness.

Is it unlucky to bring holly into the house?

There is some debate about whether it’s unlucky to bring holly into the house. Many people believe that bringing holly into the home at any time of year can attract negative energy or even bad luck.

However, others believe that holly is a protective and auspicious plant that can ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune to the home.

Ultimately, whether you choose to bring holly into your house or not is a matter of personal preference.


The holly tree has a long history of symbolism and meaning associated with it. In many cultures, the holly is seen as a sign of good luck and protection from harm. It is also often used as a decorative element during the winter holidays.

Whether you’re looking for a unique Christmas decoration or want to learn more about the symbolism of this popular plant, be sure to check out our website for more information on the holly tree.