From the holly and the ivy to mistletoe and myrrh, it wouldn't be the festive season without traditional plants. But increasingly doctors think they could offer practical benefits year round.
James Wong, an ethnobotanist and presenter of this week's festive edition of BBC Two's Grow Your Own Drugs, says: "The natural benefits of our favourite Christmas plants are being uncovered all the time. But we can learn a lot from the past, too. Cherokee Indians, for instance, used to drink an infusion of spruce needles to help them stave off scurvy and keep the airways open."
However, you need to be careful when building a festive apothecary – mistletoe, for instance, is highly poisonous to humans. "You might want to stick to mince pies," says Wong. "You can't go far wrong with a dose of nutmeg and cinnamon."
Good for lowering cholesterol, staying awake
A recent report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that maté, a stimulating and emetic herbal tea containing Ilex paraguariensis, a relative of holly found in the rainforests, of South America can help lower cholesterol levels, even in patients already taking statins. Other studies have linked maté to weight-loss and appetite suppression. "The tea is also great mood-lifter," says James Wong, "it's seriously caffeine-packed. I call it Argentinian rocket fuel." The holly-based Bach Flower Remedy is said to help control moods, especially hatred, suspicion or envy – which makes it the perfect tincture for the festive season.