A Writers Guide to Mistletoe

Eastern Mistletoe

Eastern Mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on almost any deciduous tree. It will grow and live on a tree branch until the branch dies.

Mistletoe originally referred to Viscum album, European mistletoe (Santalaceae family), that is native to Great Britain and Europe. Over time, mistletoe came to include other closely related species as well as any parasitic plant with similar habits. Viscum cruciatum, a different variety of mistletoe, grows in Southwest Spain, Southern Portugal, North Africa, Australia, and Asia. Phoradendron leucarpum is Eastern mistletoe, which is native to North America.

European mistletoe has tongue-shaped, thick, yellowish-green leaves that grow in pairs along a woody stem. They have waxy, white berries in clusters of two to six and very small, unnoticeable flowers that cluster at the fork branches. The Viscum cruciatum variety has smaller leaves and red berries. The North American mistletoe is similar to the European mistletoe but has shorter, broader leaves and longer berry clusters of ten or more fruit.

White berries of the mistletoe.

White berries of the mistletoe.

Particulars

Botanical Name: Santalales

Common/Folk Names: All-heal, Billy Goat Fodder, Birdlime Mistletoe, Churchman’s Greeting, Devil’s Fuge, Drudenfuss, Golden Bough, Iscador, Kiss-and-go, Mislin-bush, Misle, and Misseltoe
European variety: Herbe de la Croix
Viscum cruciatum: Red-berry Mistletoe
North American variety: American Mistletoe, Eastern Mistletoe, Hairy Mistletoe, and Oak Mistletoe

Life Cycle: perennial
Habitat: any deciduous tree, prefers soft bark, frequently found on Apple, Ash, and Hawthorn
Blooms: March and April, berries grow November and December

Smell: no discernible scent
Taste: unknown (Don’t taste it; it’s toxic.)

Notes

  • Mistletoe is poisonous, especially the berries.
  • Mistletoe candles are usually scents of pine with some sweet berry mixed in.

History

  • Mistletoe was used in the Roman festival of Saturnalia and in wedding ceremonies. It was associated with fertility.
  • Celtic Druids considered mistletoe sacred and used it in ceremonies.
  • In medieval times, mistletoe was hung year-round to keep witches and ghosts from entering the house.
  • During the Christmas season, it’s hung in doorways. Tradition dictated that a man was allowed to kiss any woman standing underneath mistletoe, and that bad luck would befall any woman who refused the kiss. Some also removed a berry with each kiss. When all the berries were gone, the mistletoe was removed. Victorian England’s serving class is credited with perpetuating this tradition.
  • In 1682 France, mistletoe was thought to cure epilepsy.
  • A tincture of mistletoe was used as a heart tonic for typhoid fever in place of Foxglove.
  • There’s a 16th century recipe for strengthening fingernails that includes mistletoe powder, lime, and wine yeast. It’s rubbed on the nails.
  • Mistletoe has been used to regulate blood pressure.
  • Mistletoe added to baths was used to treat pain, chilblains, and chapped skin.
  • During the Middle Ages, mistletoe was banned by the church because of its association with paganism. Holly was used as a substitute.

Lore

  • Druids believed mistletoe could heal illnesses, protect against nightmares, and predict the future.
  • In Norse lore, Balder, the god of peace, was slain with an arrow made of mistletoe. He was brought back to life at the request of the other gods and goddesses. Mistletoe was then given to the goddess of love so that it could be used for love and not death.
  • In France, mistletoe placed in a train car insured the train would not jump the track.
  • When used in combination with other herbs, it will open locks.
  • When gathered on Midsummer, then placed under the pillow, one will have prophetic dreams.
  • In Poland, if mistletoe grows on willow or alder, it’s a sign of bad times to come.
  • Wands made of mistletoe ward off werewolves.
  • Carrying a sprig of mistletoe will bring good luck, protection, and fertility.
  • Hanging it in the home will protect it from disease, lightening, werewolves, and keeping fairies from switching children with changelings.
  • Used in magic spells for fertility, dreams, and healing—especially spiritual healing. When used in combination with Verbena and Elecampane and made into a powder, it can be used to find true love.

In the Language of Flowers, it means: surmounting difficulties

This is a reference for fiction writers and should not be taken as medical or spiritual advice.

flowerindex

References:
  • Botanical.com
  • Wikipedia.org
  • Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham
  • Folklore and Symbolism of Flower, Plants and Trees by Ernst and Johanna Lehner
  • Essential Herbal Wisdom: A Complete Exploration of 50 Remarkable Herbs By Nancy Arrowsmith
  • images: closeup of mistletoe, berries from Wikipedia.org
  • series logo image by openclipart.org, awesome colorization by me!
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16 Comments

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  1. I guess that's why we now associate holly with Christmas.
    Fertility? Glad I never kissed under the mistletoe often!

    1. I always thought it a weird tradition.

  2. I enjoyed learning more about mistletoe. The most I knew about it–beyond the kissing thing around Christmas–was how it killed Balder.

    1. And now you know to keep it handy for werewolves.

      1. An excellent point! In fact, my mom was talking about mistletoe this morning, and I was telling her some of the facts I've read from this post. 🙂

  3. I've only seen it in its natural state once, growing on a friend's tree. If I knew it warded off werewolves, I would've picked some.

    1. Me too! When is the next full moon?

  4. Thanks for the history lesson but due to today's political and entertainment climate most people will not be hanging mistletoe this year. Myself included. But that goes without saying as I'm married.

  5. I've always avoided mistletoe. Maybe I'm a werewolf!

  6. I always wondered what all the fuss was about with mistletoe? Now I know. Cheer Holly (font of all wisdom) 🙂

    Best of luck for 2018 and enjoy the holidays!
    Shah – XX

  7. I had no idea that Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. Ha!

  8. I had no idea it was a parasitic plant. How weird. I've never hung it in my apartment.

  9. Interesting that a parasitic plant has so much positive beliefs about it. I will be certain not to eat it, though.

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