Mistletoe- Not Just for Kissing

Did you know that Mistletoe- one of the holidays most inspiring traditions- is really a parasitic plant named for bird feces?

Mistletoe grows on hardwood trees, such as oak and apple trees. It’s parasitic, and as it grows, it thrusts its roots into the bark of the tree. While this rarely kills the host tree, mistletoe sucks nutrients and water from the host tree and uses this to further its growth. The berries of the mistletoe are eaten by birds, who then deposit their droppings on the branches where they’ve feasted, thus ensuring the cycle of life of the mistletoe plant. Actually, the name “mistletoe” is derived from the Anglo-Saxons. Their word for dung was “mistle” and the word for twig was “tan.” “Mistletan” was Old English for Mistletoe, and that reminds us that it was named for the bird droppings.

Bird poo aside, the Druids believed the mistletoe plant was of divine origin. In serious Winter Solstice rituals, druids would lead long processionals through the forest, until they came upon mistletoe growing on an oak tree. The head Druid would cut the mistletoe away from the host tree with a golden sickle. It was then caught upon a white linen cloth and was not allowed to touch the ground. The Druids believed that this plant was able to cure illness and other maladies and gave it the Celtic name “uile” or All-Heal. They also believed that it was a fertility plant, given to them by the Gods. You can still find All-Heal in many herbal shoppes, though it is poisonous and can cause stomach issues and it may even be fatal.
In rural Sweden and Switzerland, people believed that in order to get the full potency of mistletoe, one had to collect it in a special way at a certain time. The sun had to be in Sagittarius, and the moon must be waning. Also, the mistletoe had to be shot or knocked down and caught before touching the ground. It was also believed to protect against witchcraft and sorcery and was used in counter magic, in order to counter curses and hexes.
The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe most likely came from the associate of the plant with the Scandinavian cultures. Frigga, a Norse Goddes,s had taken the oath of every person and plant that they would not harm her son, Balder. All, except the mistletoe plant- she thought it too young, small and inconsequential. Loki found the mistletoe and, steering his hand, convinced Balder’s blind brother, Hod to heave the mistletoe at Balder. The dart of mistletoe went through Balder, killing him instantly. Frigga’s tears turned the red berries of mistletoe to white, and with his mother’s kiss Balder was restored to life. Frigga was so grateful that she declared that anyone who walked under mistletoe shall be bestowed upon them a kiss.
Mistletoe is one of the most revered and holy plants of the ancients. Transcending cultures and geography, this herb is known for its powerful healing and harming properties. So, next time you kiss someone under the mistletoe- remember just how powerful the herb above you might be.


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