Holly berries are blue

Is the holly poisonous? Information on Ilex species

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The holly berries look inviting, but they should never be consumed. Because the stone fruits are highly toxic to humans as well as pets!
From October onwards, the time has come when the holly fruits are ripe. The fruit-bearing holly visually beautifies many a garden and the animal world is also happy about the winter berries. The small fruits are a welcome meal for many birds. Humans and pets, on the other hand, should keep a distance from the fruits because they are extremely poisonous!


Holly is poisonous!

Basically, all organs of the ilex are considered to be poisonous. However, care should be taken with the fruits and leaves in particular. Because they contain triterpenes and the leaves contain saponins - both substances that are toxic to humans. But that was not all the toxins, because the plant also contains:

  • Ilicin
  • Menisdaurine
  • Rutin
  • Urolic acid

Note: Which toxin actually triggers the symptoms has not yet been clarified. However, it is assumed that the highest concentration of toxins is in the fruits.


When is consumption dangerous?

Ideally, the small fruits are not even eaten, because even eating two pieces can cause symptoms of poisoning. When these occur and which measures should be taken depends on the amount of berries consumed.

  • up to 5 pieces: drink plenty of water
  • more than 5 pieces: medicinal charcoal
  • from 10 pieces: gastric emptying
  • 20-30 pieces: life threatening

Note: If poisoning is suspected, a doctor should always be consulted in case of doubt!

Beware of children and pets

While adults can usually consume some winter berries without severe side effects, caution is advised with children and small pets (such as dogs or cats)! Because even the smallest amounts can have a toxic effect and in the worst case even be life-threatening.

  • Children: 2 fruits can already cause nausea
  • remove winter berries from branches to be on the safe side
  • Caution: dry specimens fall off!
  • Pets: symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea

You can usually tell whether dogs or cats have eaten a berry by their behavior. Because most fur noses shake their head excessively and drool more often afterwards. The prickly fruits can also cause injuries in the mouth area.


If the winter berries are consumed in large quantities, typical symptoms of poisoning can occur shortly after ingestion. It should be noted here that not all symptoms occur in every person.

  • Gastrointestinal complaints
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • sleepiness
  • Paralysis
  • Changes in consciousness

Note: As soon as poisoning is suspected, you should definitely drink plenty of water and consult a doctor! Especially if the fruit has been consumed by children or pets.

Holly in homeopathy

Even though winter berries are not suitable for consumption, they are still used in homeopathy. However, the use of these agents is not without controversy because of the toxins they contain. Experimenting on your own is therefore not recommended, but should always be discussed with a doctor. The Ilex is used in herbal medicine for flu and colds, among other things. But the plant is also said to provide relief for fever and cramps, as well as whooping cough and stitch. Because the following healing effects are promised to the holly:

  • antispasmodic
  • ejection-promoting
  • bowel regulating
  • cold reliever
  • fever lowering
  • diuretic
  • rheumatoid

Note: Please note that this article does not in any way replace a visit to the doctor. There is no guarantee that medical statements are correct.
You can find detailed information on first aid in the event of poisoning and important information on poison control centers here.