Are Holly Berries Edible?

by Charlie
Holly berries

Holly berries are typically seen around the Christmas holiday. The plant is grown throughout temperate and subtropical regions located in various parts of the world.

Are holly berries edible? Holly berries are beautiful and look exceptionally tempting, but they are not edible to humans. These red berries are intended for birds to eat only, and they are toxic to most other animals, including pets.

If you are decorating with holly, remove the berries first, especially if you have young children! Ingestion of holly can cause an unpleasant reaction.

What Makes Holly Berries Poisonous?

Holly berries contain high levels of theobromine. This is also found in chocolate and caffeine, but the quantities in holly berries are dangerous. They also have ilicin in them, and some varieties of holly contain saponin.

These things will not make the person (or pet) consuming the berries feel well at all. You should avoid decorating with holly berries indoors if you have children or pets, because even if you put the holly far out of reach, it’s possible that the berries will drop off.

A curious child might be very tempted to pop the bright red berry into their mouth – it looks so appetizing. While one berry is unlikely to do much harm, if a child gets hold of more, they could make themselves quite ill. It does not take many holly berries for them to have a negative effect.

The same goes for a cat or a dog that finds and decides to eat holly berries. If you don’t want to be taking a trip to the hospital or to a vet, it’s best to either leave holly out of your yearly decorations, or to remove the berries before hanging the holly up. While they are certainly pretty, it’s not worth the risk!

What Happens If You Eat Holly Berries?

Holly berries aren’t poisonous to the point of death, but they will make the person who eats them very uncomfortable. A healthy adult will probably not suffer any ill effects from eating a few berries (although you should not do so), but a child can have symptoms after eating five or even less.

Pets, too, with their smaller bodies, are likely to feel the effects much more quickly than a fully grown person would.

So, what effects should you look out for?

Symptoms can vary between people, but most commonly, eating holly berries will lead to vomiting, sometimes severe vomiting. Diarrhea is also a possible effect, as the person’s system tries to remove the toxins as quickly as possible. The person may feel very sick, and they are at risk of dehydration if they vomit a lot.

It is possible for holly consumption to cause drowsiness, so watch out for this symptom as well.

If your pet has eaten holly berries, they are also likely to suffer from vomiting or diarrhea, and may shake their heads from side to side in distress.

Although the chances of a child or a pet consuming holly berries in quantity are low, if you want to decorate with holly berries, you should still familiarize yourself with the symptoms, caution your child away from eating any part of the holly, and try to keep pets in a different area. 

Holly does not taste good to people or cats/dogs, but it is better to be aware of the potential danger than to take the chance.

What to Do If Someone Has Eaten Holly Berries?

If you think someone has consumed holly berries, the first and most important thing is to remove the source. If your child has holly berries in their mouth, encourage them to wash their mouth out with water and spit the contents into a bowl. Remove as much berry as you can from their mouth, and then help them to thoroughly wash their hands.

Clean up any remaining berries to avoid further danger, and then give them a little bit of water to drink. Try to find out how many berries they consumed, either by asking them, or by looking at the evidence. You might be able to work out an approximate quantity by looking at how many berries are left on the holly.

Next, you will want to call poison control or your local hospital. Describe any symptoms that are occurring.

You may be able to treat holly berry poisoning at home by keeping a close eye on the person and making sure that they drink enough to replace fluids if they are throwing up. However, if the case is serious, the person may need to go to hospital. They will be treated with activated charcoal and may be given intravenous fluids to keep their levels stable.

If in doubt, always speak to medical professionals before taking other action. While holly poisoning should not be serious in most cases, it is better to err on the side of caution.

If it is your pet that has consumed the holly berries, you should again start by removing as much as you can from their mouths, rinsing out any extra, and then speaking to a vet about the potential damage.

What About Other Parts of a Holly Bush?

It’s even more unlikely that children or pets will be tempted to consume other parts of the holly bush, as the leaves are spiky and unpleasant. Like the berries, they do not taste good. However, they should not be eaten either. They can lead to similar effects, and are certainly not edible to either people or pets.

In general, it is best to avoid using holly in your home if you have concerns about either your children or your pets getting hold of it. While holly leaves are generally unattractive as food, those bright red berries may certainly appeal, and you don’t want to end up in the emergency room all night!

Final Thoughts

So, in answer to the question, no, holly berries are not edible to people or their pets. Holly intends its berries for birds such as blackbirds, thrushes, and redwings. It does not want other creatures eating the berries, and therefore they are toxic.

While the toxicity is generally low and not particularly dangerous, you should still ensure that your children and your pets do not get an opportunity to ingest the berries.

You may also like