Quite possibly one of the most famous holiday plants, here's a fun article all about mistletoe and its surprising history written by a friend, Moralea Milne.
"Most people know little about mistletoe beyond the delightful Christmas-season tradition of "kissing" beneath the mistletoe." Did you know the proper procedure requires that you remove a berry for every kiss, until there are no berries left and there's no more kissing to be indulged?
In Norse mythology Frigga, goddess of love, proves the power of a mother's love when her tears raise her son, Balder, from death caused by an arrow poisoned with red mistletoe berries. Her tears change the berries to a pearly white and rehabilitate the mistletoe's reputation. She kisses everyone who walks beneath the mistletoe plant, in gratitude for all the did to protect her son.
Revered by Celtic Druids as a sacred plant, which they called "all-heal," mistletoe was considered a potent substance that could cure illnesses of many descriptions; serve as an antidote against poisons; ensure fertility,; protect against witchcraft, lighting and a death in battle; and perform as a divining rod to rind burial gold. Apparently if opposing groups found themselves in the forest beneath mistletoe, they would call a truce for a day (kiss and make up?).
Although mistletoe is known to cause gastrointestinal distress and can be potentially fatal, its properties have been investigated for use in cancer research to stimulate the immune system, kill cancer cells, reduce tumors, increase survival time, decrease pain, and improve quality of life.
The word mistletoe, from the German mistel, for dung, and the old Anglo-Saxon tan, for twig or - dung on a twig - refers to the perception that birds would leave behind voided mistletoe seeds on host tree branches, ensuring successful germination. However, that view has been proven false because mistletoe germination actually decreases with passage through a digestive tract. In fact, mistletoe berries have evolved a much more remarkable dispersal tactic, ejecting their single sticky seed at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour!
In an undisturbed natural environment, the hemiparasitic (semi-parasitic) mistletoe utilizes the tree for food but is also able to photosynthesize. Although disparaged by lumber companies as a destructive pest, mistletoe is an important component of woodland ecology, contributing to diversity in the forest. Mistletoe causes the host tree to develop dense clusters of branches, often evocatively referred to as witches' brooms, which provide well protected roosting and nesting sites and effective cover from predators.
From its place as a natural component of the forest ecology, to sacred plant, to medicinal cure all, reviled as lumber pest or fondly associated with holiday fun and romance, mistletoe has long been a part of human culture."
Now you know! Perfect for Holiday party trivia.
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