Suppression

Winterberry

Category: Medicines - plant based

Type

Voluntary

Introduction and description

 

Ilex verticillata, the Winterberry or American Winterberry, is a species of holly.

Other names that have been used include Black Alder Winterberry, Brook Alder, Canada holly, Coralberry, Deciduous Holly, Deciduous Winterberry, False alder, Fever bush, Inkberry, Michigan Holly, Possumhaw, Apalachine a feuilles de Prunier , Swamp Holly, Virginian Winterberry, or Winterberry Holly.

Older botanical names include Prinos verticillatus (LINN.) , P. Gronovii and  P. Confertus.

Winterberry  is used these days as an ornamental shrub, as it provides a ‘midwinter splash of bright color from densely packed berries, whose visibility is heightened by the loss of foliage’.   The bare branches covered in berries are also popular for cutting and use in floral arrangements.  But at one time the berries in particular were used medicinally by Native Americans, giving the plant one of its names "fever bush".

Distribution

 

Winterberry is native to eastern North America in the United States and southeast Canada, from Newfoundland west to Ontario and Minnesota, and south to Alabama

The species occurs particularly in wetland habitats, but also on dry sand dunes and grassland. The berries are an important food resource for numerous species of birds.

Description

Ilex verticillata is a shrub growing to 1–5 metres (3.3–16.4 ft) tall. It is one of a number of hollies which are deciduous, losing their leaves in the fall. In wet sites, it will spread to form a dense thicket, while in dry soil it remains a tight shrub.

The leaves are glossy green, 3.5–9 cm long, 1.5–3.5 cm broad, with a serrated margin and an acute apex.

The flowers are small, 5 mm diameter, with five to eight white petals.

 

The fruit is a globose red drupe 6–8 mm diameter, which often persists on the branches long into the winter, giving the plant its English name.

 Like most hollies, it is dioecious, with separate male and female plants; the proximity of at least one male plant is required to pollenize the females in order to bear fruit.

The bark is found in thin fragments, the outer surface brownish, with whitish patches and black dots and lines, the cork layer easily separating from the pale-greenish or yellowish white inner tissue. The fracture is short, the odour almost imperceptible, and the taste bitter and slightly astringent.

Cultivation

It is a tough plant which is easy to grow, with very few diseases or pests. Although wet acidic soils are optimal, the winterberry will grow well in the average garden. Numerous cultivars are available, differing in size and shape of the plant and colour of the berry. At least one male plant must be planted in proximity to one or more females for them to bear fruit.

Medical uses

Winterberry was widely used by the North America Indians for its astringent properties. The list below shows its uses.  Some of these properties may be because it appears to be an antiparasitic:

  • Iroquois Drug (Cathartic) - Decoction of bark taken as a physic.
    Herrick, James William 1977 Iroquois Medical Botany. State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis (p. 373)
  • Iroquois Drug (Emetic) - Decoction of bark taken as an emetic.
    Herrick, James William 1977 Iroquois Medical Botany. State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis (p. 373)
  • Iroquois Drug (Gastrointestinal Aid) - Plant taken for biliousness.
    Herrick, James William 1977 Iroquois Medical Botany. State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis (p. 373)
  • Iroquois Drug (Other) - Taken to retain vigor.
    Herrick, James William 1977 Iroquois Medical Botany. State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis (p. 373)
  • Iroquois Drug (Psychological Aid) - Decoction of bark taken as an emetic for craziness.
    Herrick, James William 1977 Iroquois Medical Botany. State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis (p. 373)
  • Iroquois Drug (Respiratory Aid) - Compound decoction of roots taken for hay fever.
    Herrick, James William 1977 Iroquois Medical Botany. State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis (p. 374)
  • Ojibwa Drug (Antidiarrheal) - Bark used for diarrhea.

Dr Duke’s analysis is in its infancy, however, Mrs Grieve provides quite a thorough analysis based on its traditional uses. 

See the observations

Related observations