In many western cultures, holly is a traditional Christmas decoration, used especially in wreaths. The wood is heavy, hard and whitish; one traditional use is for chess pieces, with holly for the white pieces, and ebony for the black. Other uses include turnery, inlay work and as firewood. Looms in the 1800s used holly for the spinning rod. Because holly is dense and can be sanded very smooth, the rod was less likely than other woods to snag threads being used to make cloth. Peter Carl Faberge used holly for cases for Faberge eggs as well as small objects such as hand seals.
Many of the hollies are widely used as ornamental plants in gardens and parks. Several hybrids and numerous cultivars have been developed for garden use, among them the very popular Ilex × altaclerensis (I. aquifolium × I. perado) and Ilex × meserveae (I. aquifolium × I. rugosa). Hollies are often used for hedges; the spiny leaves make them difficult to penetrate, and they take well to pruning and shaping. In Heraldry, holly is used to symbolise truth.
Between the thirteenth and eighteenth century, before the introduction of turnips, holly was cultivated for use as winter fodder for cattle and sheep. Less spiny varieties of holly were preferred, and in practice the leaves growing near the top of the tree have far fewer spines making them more suitable for fodder.
Several holly species are used to make caffeine-rich herbal teas. The South American Yerba Mate (I. paraguariensis) is boiled for the popular revigorating drinks Mate, and Chimarrão, and steeped in water for the cold Tereré. Guayusa (I. guayusa) is used both as a stimulant and as an admixture to the entheogenic tea ayahuasca; its leaves have the highest known caffeine content of any plant. In North and Central America, Yaupon (I. vomitoria), was used by southeastern Native Americans as a ceremonial stimulant and emetic known as "the black drink". As the name suggests, the tea's purgative properties were one of its main uses, most often ritually. Gallberry (Appalachian Tea, I. glabra) is a milder substitute for Yaupon and does not have caffeine. In China, the young leaf buds of I. kudingcha are processed in a method similar to green tea to make a tisane called kǔdīng chá (苦丁茶, roughly "bitter spikeleaf tea").
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