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Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Mistletoe

Mistletoe is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “little dung twig.” It is named thus because the plant grows from seeds that have passed through the digestive tract of birds.

The name 'Mistletoe' was first given to Viscum album (European mistletoe,), the only species native in Great Britain and much of Europe. Later the name was given to other related species, including Phoradendron serotinum (the eastern mistletoe of eastern North America,).

European mistletoe attached to a silver birch

European mistletoe has smooth-edged, oval, evergreen leaves borne in pairs along the woody stem, and waxy, white berries that it bears in clusters of two to six. The Eastern mistletoe of North America is similar, but has shorter, broader leaves and longer clusters of 10 or more berries

A separate species of mistletoe, Viscum cruciatum, occurs in Southwest Spain and Southern Portugal, as well as North Africa, Asia and Australia.

The Celtic people believed the mistletoe had miraculous healing powers. In fact the name for mistletoe in the Celtic languages is 'all heal'.

In Celtic and Teutonic tradition mistletoe could cure diseases, render poisons harmless, make humans and animals fertile,.bring good luck and protect houses from evil spirits.


William Shakespeare mentions it in Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scene I: "Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe".

Medical research has found substances in mistletoe that can slow down tumor growth.

The average mistletoe measures 8 inches in diameter.

Mistletoe is often used as a Christmas decoration. Viscum album is used in Europe and Phoradendron serotinum is used in North America.

According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas; it may remain hanging through the year, often to preserve the house from lightning or fire, until it was replaced the following Christmas Eve.

Mistletoe in winter

According to a custom during Christmas, any two people who meet under a hanging of mistletoe are urged to kiss. The origin of the tradition may have stemmed from either the Celtic belief that mistletoe symbolizes fertility or  the Anglo-Saxons who associated the plant with Frigga (the goddess of love).

The correct mistletoe etiquette is for the man to remove one berry when he kisses a woman. When all the berries are gone, there is no more kissing permitted underneath the plant.

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