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Are the Berries on Holly Plants Poisonous?

By Helena Vayna ; Updated September 21, 2017
Holly plant.

Throughout the world, there are over 400 species of holly plants. Although edible to some birds and other animals, holly berries are not edible for humans and should not be consumed.


Feeling sick.

For humans, eating more than three holly berries can cause prolonged nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and drowsiness. Holly berries are considered more harmful to children, but are not considered fatal. If you have ingested holly berries and are experiencing an adverse reaction, contact the nearest poison control center.


Close up of holly berries.

Ilicin is the toxic principle in many holly berries. Some species, like the English holly, contain the toxin theobromine in the leaves and berries of the plants. Regardless of which type of holly is consumed, ilicin and theobromine produce nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and diarrhea when ingested in quantity. Ilicin is also known to cause dermatitis.


Close up of holly plant.

Holly berries are red, black, orange or yellow. Holly is found in many areas across the world. Species of holly are found in Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, Asia, Northern Iran, North America and Australia.


About the Author


Based in California, Helena Vayna has been writing professionally since 2005. She has contributed to websites such as Answerbag and ATHGO. Her writing focuses topics about Social Security, American history, swimming and sailing. Vayna holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from California State University and is pursuing a Master of Social Science from Syracuse University.