The Full Story
Boughs of holly are okay, but berries are not! Holly leaves, branches and berries are beautiful holiday decorations, but the berries are poisonous to people and pets. Swallowing holly berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and drowsiness. Children have had symptoms after swallowing as few as two holly berries.
Holly leaves might also cause symptoms if eaten but, because they are prickly, children usually leave them alone.
To prevent poisoning, remove the berries before decorating with fresh holly. Even if the holly is placed out of reach, the berries quickly dry out at indoor temperatures. Then, they fall to the floor where children and pets find them.
If you suspect that someone has swallowed holly berries or any other holiday plant:
- Remove any plant material still in the mouth.
- Give a small amount of water or milk to drink.
- Then, use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Use webPOISONCONTROL or call right away. Don't wait to see if the person gets sick.
Treatment may range from simple observation at home to a trip to the emergency department for activated charcoal and, perhaps, intravenous fluids. Poison Control experts will stay in touch with you to be sure that everything turns out okay, and to answer any questions you might have.
Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Serkalem Mekonnen, RN, BSN, MPH
Certified Specialist in Poison Information
Evens ZN, Stellpflug SJ. Holiday plants with toxic misconceptions. West J Emerg Med. 2012;13(6):538-542.
- Remove the berries before decorating with fresh holly.
- Watch children closely when they are playing outdoors. Be sure that they don’t eat berries, other plant parts, or mushrooms.
This Really Happened
A 13-month-old boy ingested a few holly berries from the Christmas wreath. His mom thought he ate no more than two. She called Poison Control for advice.
The child was not having any problems or symptoms at the time. Poison Control did not expect the child to have any serious symptoms from the two berries. The mother was told to give him something to eat and to watch for stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Poison Control stayed in close contact with the mom by telephone. The child had a few loose stools but no other symptoms.