Mistletoe Secrets

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Mistletoe SecretEver wonder about mistletoe and why it’s part of Christmas lore and tradition? Join Julie on this week’s episode to learn about mistletoe secret history and uses. It’s been around a long time!

Mistletoe Secret History

Some of the mistletoe secret history starts with the ancient Norse, Greek, and Roman legends. In Norse mythology, the god Baldur the Beautiful—son of the goddess, Frigg—was killed by an arrow made from mistletoe. As Frigg wept over her son, her tears became the pearlescent berries. Afterward, she declared that mistletoe would be a symbol of peace and friendship. It is said that she gave the mistletoe to the goddess of love and that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss in token of its new symbolic meaning.

In Greek and Roman legend, Aeneas of Aeneid fame needs a “golden bough” in order to see his dead father who gives him the vision to found Rome. This golden bough is traditionally thought to be European mistletoe. The ancient Druids thought that mistletoe held some special powers and revered it as a sacred plant. They thought that it warded off evil and they would send messengers around with branches of it to announce the new year.

The origin of the whole kissing tradition is unclear, but probably started among servants in a local village and spread from there. Because mistletoe is green and blooming even in winter, it has long been associated with fertility and life. The mistletoe secret to its winter growth is that it draws all the life from its deciduous host tree!

Mistletoe Secret Habits

Mistletoe, or Viscum album, is an evergreen parasitic shrub. They spread their seeds primarily through birds so when a bird drops one of the sticky berries on a tree branch, the berry sticks. Very soon, a little thread-like root comes from a seed in the berry and pierces the bark of the tree branch. It burrows through until it reaches the sap and then derives all of its sustenance from this host tree. The little root, of course, thickens and grows. Sometimes, the mistletoe bush ends up killing the host tree. Like many other evergreens, the yellow-green lobe shaped leaves are waxy and smooth, the flowers tiny. Mistletoe produces pearly white berries in December, which may be the reason why it has long been associated with the winter solstice and later, Christmas. They are considered toxic and some people have been poisoned by them, although birds don’t seem to be affected.

Historic and Modern Uses

Historically, mistletoe was used mostly for complaints associated with the nervous system. It was used to quiet epileptic convulsions in the 17th and 18th centuries, and even considered a specific for the condition. Herbalists at that time also used it for delirium, hysterical disorders, and urinary and heart complaints arising from a disordered nervous system. They also used it to open up circulation to areas constrained or damaged by nervous tension. However, it seemed to work best in smaller, rather than larger, amounts as higher doses tended to aggravate nervous conditions.

In more modern times, research confirms the mistletoe secret weapon for epilepsy and other central nervous system disorders, such as hysteria and headaches. It also shows promise against Alzheimer’s disease. In German speaking countries, mistletoe is often prescribed as part of a complementary approach to cancer and there have been several studies on this with mixed results. The chemical constituents of mistletoe do show anti-tumor and immune system regulating effects, but other factors come into play. And, herbal medicine often requires synergistic and wholistic interactions for the body to heal.


Mistletoe is not safe for children and the American variety is not the same as the European species, so don’t interchange them. Also, it is easy to overdose on Mistletoe and accidentally poison yourself. Do not eat the berries!

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