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The largest family of Mistletoes, Loranthaceae, has 73 genera and over 900 species. Subtropical and tropical climates have markedly more Mistletoe species; Australia has 85, of which 71 are in Loranthaceae, and 14 in Santalaceae.
The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements--fire, water, air, and earth--that they would not harm her beloved Balder. Leave it to Loki, a sly, evil spirit, to find the loophole. The loophole was mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood. To make the prank even nastier, he took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead. Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant--making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.
Mistletoe: Friend or Foe
Mistletoe has been used as a Yuletide decoration for centuries. The soft woody plant, with its dark green, oval foliage and white berries, symbolizes peace and love. The Norse belief may have been the origin of this symbolism as it was said that men who met in battle under mistletoe would stop their fighting, kiss and make-up. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe may have also originated from the Druids who considered the mistletoe sacred. They believed that it held magical virtue and was a remedy for evil. Druids believed that anything found growing on an oak tree had been sent from heaven and mistletoe found on oaks was especially sacred. In the Celtic language, mistletoe means "All heal" and it was thought to possess miraculous healing powers and hold the soul of the host tree. The priests would cut pieces of the oak tree on which the mistletoe grew and offer them along with two white bulls as a sacrifice to pagan gods. Neither herb nor plant, and suspended high in the branches of sacred trees, Mistletoe was thought by the Druids to be an "in between", or a gateway to other worlds. Such was their reverence for the plant that the Celtic Tree alphabet had no word for it. Twigs with berries were hung above doors to indicate that past grievance and hatreds were forgiven and it was used in amulets, bracelets and rings to ward off evil and protect against witchcraft and poisoning. These customs and beliefs have carried over to its use at Christmas time to encourage passion by way of kissing. Hanging up the white berries was a subtle challenge to kiss the suspecting or unsuspecting individual who stood beneath it. In some traditions each time a couple kiss under the mistletoe a single white berry is removed and the kissing ceases when the final berry is removed. There is a myth associated with this practice that stated if any unmarried women of the household went unkissed during the hanging of the mistletoe, they would not marry in the coming year.
Let's get into the interesting story on how the name "mistletoe" came into existence. The name is a combination of the Anglo-Saxon words "mistel", meaning "dung" and "tan", meaning "twig". Hence, mistletoe is "dung-on-a-twig". Mistletoe gives the notion- life can spring from dung. The parasites grow on the dungs of the birds on the branches. Thus mistletoes came to be known as the symbol of life and fertility in the Christian domain of beliefs. They are also taken as the sexual symbol and the soul of the oak trees.
Mistletoe is not like typical plants which obtain support, water and nutrients from the soil in which they grow. Mistletoe is a parasite, which lives in the tops of trees. It sends out roots, which penetrate the bark and enter the water and nutrient conducting tissue of a tree. After a young plant is established it grows very quickly and lives about ten years, after which it usually dies from mechanical breakage or excessive shade. Eventually the tree is weakened and will decline in health as it is robbed of its nutrition by the clinging mistletoe.
Today, mistletoe remains a desirable decoration of the holiday season. Most people think of its attractive white berries and evergreen foliage in this decorating context and are surprised to hear that it is harmful to trees. The plant also has poisonous properties and should be kept out of the reach of small children who may be tempted to eat the berries.
Prescriptions for herbs?
New technology could make it possible - December 4, 1996
Pharmaprint is seeking approval of a prescription drug version of mistletoe. The natural medicine has been used in Europe to boost immunity in AIDS patients. But not all mistletoe works. "It makes a difference what type of mistletoe you use, the time of the year it's harvested, whether you use the berries, the leaves, the twigs," explained Dr. Clive Taylor of the University of Southern California School of Medicine.
The small white berries, produce by the plant, are generally considered to be extremely toxic and if eaten by children produce epileptic type fits and convulsions. Not surprisingly then, the Celts and other cultures were quick to realise the homeopathic uses of the plant and used extracts of the berries for many ailments including convulsions, delirium, hysteria, neuralgia and heart conditions and as an antidote for poison. The Native Americans used a "Tea ooze" for bathing the head as a cure for headache while an infusion of the plant helped to lower blood pressure and ease lung problems. The plant, dried and powdered, particularly if it came from an oak tree was said to be good for epilepsy and to cure "love sickness" and other uses included cures for debility and paralytic weakness.
Mistletoe is one herb associated with Litha and also one of its symbols.
Magical Purpose & Herbal Associations
Activator, Defence, Dream Magic, Exorcism, Fertility, Health, Hunting, Invisibility, Locks, Love, Prophetic Dreams.
Herbs and their Magical Associations
Mistletoe - (TOXIC) healing, protection, love, fertility, health, exorcism
Mistletoe Viscum album (Toxic) - Sun, Jupiter
Herbal Substitutions for Magical Purposes
Some herbs are hard to find, and it's often difficult to maintain an extensive supply of herbs, so here's some suggested substitutions for when you haven't got the necessary ingredient. Tobacco can be substituted for any poisonous herb.
Mistletoe can be substituted by Mint or Sage.
(Note: these substitutions are for magical use only - always check up on the safety or toxicity of any herb before use.)