One of the many fun features of ‘tis the season’ is mistletoe mythos which evolved into a tradition. The Old Farmers Almanac did a deep dive into everything you always wanted to know about mistletoe, or not. Hope you enjoy its genus and lore.
With evergreen leaves, yellow flowers, and white berries, large clumps of mistletoe are usually observed growing high in the canopies of fruit trees, maples, and sometimes oaks. Although it has a strong association with Christmastime kissing, in reality, the mistletoe plant is not very romantic: the plant is a parasite, attaching to its host tree of choice and siphoning off water and nutrients for itself.
Mistletoe is most easily spotted in winter. Look for ball-shaped green masses on otherwise bare tree branches. How do they get there? Birds eat the white berries and spread the seeds while sitting on the branches. The seeds adhere to the bark of the tree and germinate, relying on photosynthesis to provide the necessary energy to grow at this stage of life. The seedlings then burrow their makeshift roots into the bark of the tree and begin to sap nutrients and water from it using a specialized structure called a haustorium.
Once fully attached to its host, mistletoe lives its life out as any other plant would, flowering, fruiting, and spreading far and wide. We all know about the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. Here’s how it came about.
In an old Norse legend, Frigga, the goddess of love, had a son named Balder who was the god of innocence and light. To protect him, Frigga demanded that all creatures—and even inanimate objects—swear an oath not to harm him, but she forgot to include mistletoe. Loki, god of evil and destruction, learned of this and made an arrow from a sprig of mistletoe. He then tricked Hoth, Balder's blind brother, into shooting the mistletoe arrow and guided it to kill Balder. The death of Balder meant the death of sunlight—explaining the long winter nights in the north.
Frigga's tears fell onto the mistletoe and turned into white berries. She decreed that it should never cause harm again but should promote love and peace instead. From then on, anyone standing under mistletoe would get a kiss. Even mortal enemies meeting under mistletoe by accident had to put their weapons aside and exchange a kiss of peace, declaring a truce for the day.
Known as "the healing plant,"
BALLS OF MISTLETOE
By the 1700's, traditional "kissing balls" made of boxwood, holly, and mistletoe were hung in windows and doorways during the holiday season. A young lady caught under the mistletoe could not refuse to give a kiss. This was supposed to increase her chances of marriage, since a girl who wasn't kissed could still be single next Christmas. According to ancient custom, after each kiss, one berry is removed until they are all gone.
Mistletoe is considered a symbol of life because even when its host is leafless, it is evergreen and bears fruit in the winter. The language of flowers says mistletoe’s major attribute is overcoming difficulty.
There are 2 truths about mistletoe:
One: Mistletoe extract has major health benefits.
Two: While the berries are bird friendly, they are poisonous to humans and pets. In fact the entire plant is toxic. Oh, well. Maybe just stay with the kissing.
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