Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - Dec. 13, 2006)
Symbol of love American mistletoe Ah, the lore of mistletoe.
Where did the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe begin? Norse
legend held that the herb was given to the Goddess of Love, as a symbol of love.
The popular tradition of hanging the herb high in doorways came from the tradition
that mistletoe was a protective herb.
Mothers placed mistletoe in cradles to prevent children from being carried away by
the fairies. As well, it was believed that all who passed under this plant deserved
a kiss. It was also thought to protect against lightning. Hunters used to carry or
wear a piece of mistletoe for good luck. In Celtic times, branches of mistletoe
were hung to welcome in the New Year. During the Middle Ages, it was generally
believed that when mistletoe was a tree, it had been used to make Christs
cross: Herbe de la Croix. From that point in history, the Christian belief was
passed down that mistletoe was banished from the earth to become a parasite.
Mistletoe is an evergreen semi-parasitic plant that grows on the trunks and
branches of trees most commonly the poplar and the apple. There are actually two
herbs that are referred to as mistletoe: European mistletoe (Viscum album) and
American mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum), the state flower of Oklahoma.
American mistletoe bears small yellow flowers in early spring, developing into
sticky, white berries. The branching woody stem is swollen at the nodes and bears
opposite, leathery, yellowish-green; obviated to elliptic leaves that are hairy
when young but glabrous at maturity.
Herbalists have used European mistletoe since medieval times to treat epilepsy,
cholera, convulsions, hysteria, delirium, heart problems and nervous debility.
Native American healers have long used American mistletoe to stimulate contractions
at childbirth and also used it as an oral contraceptive. An extract of the plant is
known to increase uterine contractions and raise blood pressure when injected into
American mistletoe is the species most commonly sold as a floral decoration. Care
must be used when decorating with real mistletoe.
The leaves and stems are toxic and the berries may be poisonous if eaten in large
quantities. It is these berries that are responsible for the few reported fatal
cases including childrens deaths which have been attributed to eating them.
Mistletoe may also cause dermatitis. Symptoms of poisoning are usually those of
Every winter my mother would take me and my brother for a walk into the wilds of
the Tennessee backwoods to collect mistletoe for her Christmas season decorating.
Sometimes my father was instructed to shoot it out of the tree
Down it would fall to the ground where my brother and I would gently gather it in
an old sheet so it would not loose its berries. I have since seen it growing here
and there in the tops of trees in Florida, but I dont recommend my
fathers method of gathering it.
Mistletoe can be bought at many stores these days and the berries have been
replaced with plastic ones. I dont usually favor imitation anything, but in
this case it seems quite appropriate and sensible. And when someone offers to give
you a kiss under the mistletoe, you can acquaint with them with the Norse legend of
how mistletoe, our symbol of love, was given to us such a long time ago by the
Goddess of Love.
Karen can be reached at MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.