Mistletoe (Viscum album (European) OR Phoradendron Leucarpum (American), Zones 6-11) is a parasite that grows on larger plants, usually hardwood trees, its roots drawing nutrients from the sap of the host plant.
It has lanceate green leaves and a short stem with many forks and can form a large, bushy clump hanging from the host plant up to three feet long. Plants are unisexual and greenish flowers form in clumps. White, translucent, veined berries with one seed follow.
The juice of the berries is very sticky and allows seeds to stick to the bark of a tree. European mistletoe prefers softer deciduous trees, especially apple trees and they are frequently found on ash and hawthorn as well. American mistletoe, called Oak mistletoe is most commonly found on maple trees but also enjoys oak.
If you wish to grow your own mistletoe, you will need to obtain fresh berries. Squish them down onto the wood on the underside of a branch of an appropriate tree so that the juice makes the seed stick. Some people make notches in the wood for this purpose, but how much do you want this poor tree to go through?
A threadlike root will form in a few days and pierce the wood, eventually finding its way into the tree itself. You should select a large, healthy tree and a branch that will get plenty of its own sunlight. The mistletoe will take up to two years to mature.
Berries can be picked in autumn. The plant should be harvested in the winter and hung to dry and stored in a paper or cloth bag with plenty of circulation.
Alternatively, you can buy bulk mistletoe herb for magical use.
History and Folklore
Mistletoe has always been considered a magical, good luck plant. Lovers who kiss beneath it will have lasting happiness and carrying a sprig on your person will ensure good luck, protection, and fertility.
Hanging it in the home was supposed to protect it from disease, lightning, werewolves and having your children switched with faerie changelings.
In England and Wales, farmers gave a bunch of mistletoe to the first cow that calved to ensure the health and production of the whole herd for the year.
In Scandinavia, mistletoe was a symbol of peace under which warring parties swore truce.
According to lore, Druids held mistletoe in high esteem and collected it only when they received a vision ordering them to do so, and then with great ceremony.
Since the seeds are spread through bird droppings, our observant forebearers named Mistletoe “dung-on-twig”, (the word literally translated is a conjugation of “birdlime” or “bird dung” and twig) believing that the plant actually sprang from the dung itself. Other beliefs held the Mistletoe grew where a tree was struck by lightning.
According to Pliny the Elder, a first-century Roman Historian, described a ritual gathering of mistletoe by Gaulish Druids in his Natural History XVI as follows:
The druids – that is what they call their magicians – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is Valonia Oak…. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon….Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’ they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion. A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to a god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it. They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons
Mistletoe as a Yule Tradition
Kissing under the Mistletoe originated with the Roman festival of Saturnalia. In England, kissing under the Mistletoe took place on Christmas, of course. The man must pick a berry when the kissing was complete, and once the berries were gone, there was no more kissing. The mistletoe must then be burned on the twelfth night to ensure that those who kissed under it would marry.
Throughout the Middle Ages, mistletoe was banned by the church because of its association with fertility and all of the fun debauchery that goes with it. As a substitute, holly was suggested. Even as late as the 20th century some churches did not allow people to wear mistletoe to services.
Mistletoe retained its lusty reputation, however. During the Victorian era, public displays of affection were largely frowned upon, but if you were standing under the mistletoe, you were going to get kissed. A tradition we still hold dear today.
Mistletoe is considered to be a plant of male energy. Indeed, the white berries are reminiscent of semen (if you imagine hard enough).
Use in spells to attract love, for protection, for luck while hunting, for forgiveness and reconciliation, to increase sexual potency in men and to help conceive.
It can be burned to banish unwanted spirits, laid across the threshold of the bedroom to banish unpleasant dreams, hung in the home to attract love and drive away negative influence and carried as a general protective amulet.
The sticky berry juice has been used to catch birds, but this is illegal. It might be useful around the house where you need stickiness.
Mistletoe is used to lower blood pressure and for the general health of the heart and circulatory system. It is also used to treat epilepsy. For both of these, make a tea of 1 teaspoon dried leaves with one teacup of boiling water. As needed for blood pressure, and two to three times per day for epilepsy.
Compress made with this same tea can be used for rheumatism.
Mistletoe has also been indicated in the treatment of certain cancers.
Stimulates uterine contractions and has been used to suppress menstruation and aid in childbirth.
Mistletoe is toxic. While you’d have to eat a lot of it to kill yourself with it, pets and small children are at a great risk. Mistletoe berries should never be taken internally.
There are many different types of mistletoe; check the botanical name before use.
Women who are pregnant or nursing should never use mistletoe!
from Johann Dreo @flickr Creative Commons