Kiss under the mistletoe

Nature Notes mistletoe ANL-140212-112248001
Nature Notes mistletoe ANL-140212-112248001

Manea School 
of Gardening

Most people associate mistletoe with kissing, as it is customary for anyone caught standing under a sprig of this plant (often strategically placed in a doorway) to receive a kiss. But did you know that mistletoe was used as a religious symbol in pagan rites, centuries before the time of Christ? To the ancient Druids of Britain it was a sacred symbol with both magical powers and medicinal properties.

They believed mistletoe could cure diseases, made animals and humans more fertile, provided protection from witches and brought good luck.

Mistletoe was not allowed in Christian places of worship for many years because of its association with pagan ceremonies. But it is not clear just how it became part of the holiday season.

Mistletoe is the common name for any one of a hundred species of plants from as far away and diverse climates as Australia, South Africa, America and Europe. Our traditional mistletoe is the European species (Viscum album), having long green leaves and clusters of white berries in Europe.

This slow-growing plant forms a greenish-yellow evergreen shrub that grows up to one metre long, hanging from tree branches. The male and female flowers of the mistletoe are borne on compact spikes on separate plants. The tiny, yellow flowers that appear in summer soon give rise to the familiar white berries.

Mistletoe grows on a range of hosts, among them apple trees, poplars, hawthorns, willows and, more rarely, oaks. A botanical anomaly, it is usually considered a ‘hemi-parasite’ as, although it taps into the plant for water and nutrients, it contains chlorophyll so therefore actually manufactures its own food.

So where did kissing under the mistletoe begin?

One legend comes from Scandinavia. Balder, the god of Peace, was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. His life was restored at the request of other gods and goddesses, with the mistletoe being given to the goddess of love to prevent such a thing from happening again. She said that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss to show this plant was a symbol of love.

Myths and legends were, at one time, taken very seriously. To kiss a girl under the mistletoe in public was once considered a proposal of marriage! Now that would be a sobering thought at party time!

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