Mistletoe: The origin of the popular Christmas tradition

Cheryl E Preston

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MistletoePhoto byUnsplash Ashley Winkler

The European history of mistletoe

Mistletoe is a staple of the holiday season that ancient Greeks used as a healing herb to cure menstrual cramps, disorders of the spleen and other illnesses. Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder found that mistletoe could be made into a balm that could be used for ulcers, epilepsy, and poisons. Mistletoe blossoms even during the coldest weather and during the first century AD, the Celtics and Druids considered it to be a sacred symbol of vivacity.

Druid Priest believed because the herb did not grow from roots in the ground but the branches of the sacred oak tree that it had magical power. Mistloe was given to both animals and humans because it was believed to restore fertility. Mistletoe was hung over doors for good luck and this is where the tradition of kissing underneath the mistletoe is believed to have come from.

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American mistletoePhoto byRobert Tullis Unsplash

American mistletoe

American mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum), is also referred to as eastern or oak mistletoe and is a "parasitic shrub" that grows on tree trunks and branches of trees across Virginia. It is most commonly found on red maples, oaks, and gum trees and is abundant in the swampy forests of Virginia’s Coastal Plain. (The Tidewater area). Mistletoe's green flowers bloom in late fall and turn into white berries in the winter.  American mistletoe is used in Christmas tradition and decoration and cultivated by specialty farms and harvested from wild populations. 

Mistletoe and Biodiversity

The berries of American mistletoe are poisonous to humans but a variety of birds eat them including cedar waxwings and bluebirds. Mistletoe seeds are important to the Biodiversity process as they are covered in a viscous substance that passes through a bird's digestive system and causes the seeds to stick sticks to the branches of new host trees and the process repeats. 

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I write, about breaking news, and current events. I wrote a newspaper column from 1997 to 2007 and have written for various online platforms since 2012 including Yahoo Contributor Network, Hubpages, and Vocal Media.

Roanoke, VA
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