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Saturday, September 10, 2011

HOLLY OR HOLM OAK: HISTORY OF USES AND MEDICINAL BENEFITS OF HOLLY OAK


HOLLY OAK, HOLM OAK, QUERCUS ILEX
The Holly or Holm oak (Holm is an old word for holly) is a native of southern Europe and Greece and Italy in particular. It is called the Holly oak because its young leaves resemble those of the holly bush, with jagged teeth to deter grazing animals from stripping its lower leaves bare. The leaves at the top of the tree do not have the serrated edges. Currently there is conjecture that this tree may also be native to Ireland, although it is known not t be a native of the British Isles, but there it has become naturalized. It can also be found in forests on the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
   It actually looks similar to the English or Common oak tree, Quercus robur, although the acorns are more elongated and pointed than those of the tree that is native to Britain. It is a member of the Fagaceae family which means that it is a close relative of the English oak and also of the sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) and the common beech (Fagus sylvatica). It is a tree which is popular with people who have truffle orchards, as truffles have an affinity with this tree it would seem.
  The ancient Greeks revered the oak tree and this may have been the one they had at Dodona, where they believed Zeus, the Father of the gods spoke in the rustling leaves of the oak which was an oracle and foretold the future. Other myths of the Greek oaks were that the oak was Biblys, a princess from Miletus who lusted after her brother. When he spurned her advances, she threw herself off a mountain or cliff but the Nymphs took pity on her and transformed her into a Holm oak. She thus became a Dryad and a spring of her tears welled up from the base of the oak tree.
  In Roman mythology, Jupiter is supposed to have found shelter under a Holm oak when he was an infant.
  In ancient Greece the acorns from the oak trees were symbols of fertility and women wore jewellery with the acorn motif in the hope that they would be fertile.
  Like other oaks, the bark has astringent properties and so decoctions can be given for diarrhoea and dysentery. However it is the galls, the vacant larvae of insects that are used in medicine for their astringency. They are used to treat chronic diarrhoea, haemorrhages and dysentery.
  In Portugal and Spain a variant of Quercus ilex spp. ballota is cultivated for its sweet tasting acorns, as well as the wood from the tree which is strong, hard and durable. Acorns have to be leached of their tannins before using, and can then be ground and used with flour for baking, while the roasted acorns can be used as a coffee substitute, just as the root of chicory or the dandelion are. In ancient times the acorns would be put in cloth and left in a stream to get rid of the tannins, but you can leach these under cold running water. Another method of leaching the tannins out of the acorns was to bury them in marshy ground over winter, and then they would be dug up in spring and be ready to use.
  While the Greeks used the oak for foretelling the future, the Romans were more practical and used the wood for agricultural implements as well as cart and carriage wheels.  
  The trees are slow-growing but reach great heights, of up to 82 feet on average with a spread of 68 feet. They are mighty oaks just like the rest of their family.

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