Mistletoe is hung in doorways to spread holiday cheer. It is rich in mythology, tradition, and legend.
Mistletoe derives its name from the Old English term “mistiltan”, where “mistiltan”, meaning “dung”, and “tan,” meaning “twig”. This is a contradiction to the romantic symbolism of mistletoe, which refers to bird droppings.
Mistletoe is the common term for more than 1,300 species worldwide of ancient hemiparasitic plants belonging to the Viscaceae family. All plants belonging to the Santalales family that can produce food through photosynthesis, while also receiving water and nutrients from a host.
The European mistletoeViscum album) and the American mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) are the two species of mistletoe sold at Christmastime.
European mistletoe is oval-shaped and has smooth edges. It produces two to six dense clusters with waxy white berries. American mistletoe, on the other hand, has shorter leaves and clusters that contain 10 or more berries. Both mistletoes can be poisonous in their entirety.
More than 100 trees are affected by American Mistletoe, most notably oaks. It can be found in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant toughiness zones 6-11, from New Jersey to Florida to east Texas. It blooms from July through September. Each female flower produces a single white berry that ripens in the winter with one seed.
The seeds spread by birds’ droppings or hitchhiking on feathers of birds. Each seed is covered in viscin, a glue like substance that allows the seed’s attachment to the bark of the host trees it germinates on.
The mythical and medicinal history of mistletoe was discovered in Europe during the Classical period. The Greeks used Viscum album It is used as a remedy for a variety of conditions and by the Romans to heal poisons, epilepsy, and ulcers.
Historians speculate the romantic myth of mistletoe originated with the Celtic Druids in the first century A.D. The plant bloomed in cold winter and they believed it had high fertility powers. They considered it sacred and used its fertility to improve the fertility of both humans and animals.
Frigg, the Norse goddess love, casts an evil spell on all plants to prevent them from being used as weapons against her son Baldur. Baldur dies from an arrow made of mistletoe after Frigg forgets to include it. Frigg declares mistletoe as a symbol for love and promises to kiss everyone who walks under it.
Historians are unsure how this Christmas myth came to be, but they can trace the roots of the practice back in the lyrics of a folk tune published in England in 1784.
Mistletoe is easy to spot in trees in winter. It forms large green balls on bare branch branches and is easily visible. It thrives in full sun to part shade.
Although it is parasitic, it is still beneficial to the ecosystem. In areas where there is plenty of water, this plant doesn’t cause any damage to trees. Mistletoe is generally harmless to older trees and provides nesting and safe cover for birds.
Its highly nutritious fruits are a great food source to small animals, birds, or insects. The American mistletoe is crucial to all stages in the development of the great purple-colored hairstreak butterfly.
Europeans have been using it for centuries Viscum album Traditional medicine. They now use it in prescription drugs, dietary supplements, and are also considering using it to treat cancer. The United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has not approved any mistletoe treatment for any medical condition.