Mistletoe is traditionally used at Christmas and has a long and
colorful history including myth and medicinal remedies. It may be seen in
various leafless trees... bright and thriving throughout the winter months.
All Mistletoe plants are parasitic, meaning they attach to a host and thus take
from it nutrients and water necessary to live. Over time this process may
weaken or even kill the host, giving Mistletoe a rather bad reputation. In the
plant kingdom, parasitism has evolved only nine times and Mistletoe has
independently evolved five, making it one extraordinary species. It is a large
family with over nine hundred species located in Europe, North America and
Australia. Without becoming too scientific, it is safe to say that most
Mistletoe is completely self-sufficient and adaptive to changes in climate.
The enigma of Mistletoe easily lends itself to lore. It hangs air born between
heaven and earth, has no roots yet bears fruit, and remains green and vibrant
during the winter months. It was said to have been revered by the Druids as
most holy, especially if it appeared on an Oak which was their most sacred
tree. The golden berries of the plant were considered a key linking the heavens
and underworld. Cut with a golden sickle on December 23rd (the day
of the marriage of the solar and lunar forces), it was not allowed to touch the
ground but was caught with a white cloth thus ensuring fertility,
protection from evil, abundance, and harmony. The ritual of kissing under the
Mistletoe has its origin in these pagan beliefs.
Norse mythology has Baldur, the solar hero child of Frigg and Odin, killed by a
twig of Mistletoe. As Baldur descended to the Underworld, it was said that he
would not return until after doomsday. Then, as the solar god, the light of the
heavens, he will usher in an era of peace and light to mankind. His story is
long, full of conspiracy and jealousy as the gods and goddesses of old were
prone to petty emotions, however the historical power of the plant has
Never to be outdone, the Greeks too have a story with Mistletoe as the
centerpiece. Aeneas, a young hero, used the power of a golden bough of
Mistletoe as the key which allowed for the safe entrance and return of a mortal
to the Underworld. He went below and sought his father for advice and counsel
and returned unharmed yet transformed and spiritually reborn.
Among Christians, it is said that Mistletoe was once a vibrant tree which was
used as the wood for the cross of the crucifixion of Christ. Afterwards the
disgraced tree shriveled and was reduced to a parasitic vine as punishment.
Medicinally, although the berries are poisonous, it has been used as a remedy
for epilepsy with wood amulets said to ward off attacks. It has been used to
reduce stress related heart palpations, relieve headaches and dizziness caused
by high blood pressure, and since ancient times to treat tumors. Recent medical
research has promising results with Mistletoe as a cure for cancer.
Whatever the reason to include this marvelous plant… a kiss below it, a wish
for good luck, or simply a spot of bright green… it is truly a magical addition
to any Christmas decor.