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Mistletoe

Mistletoe

PostAuthor: Tylluan » Fri Dec 03, 2010 9:29 am

Mistletoe as Medicine:

In 50 C.E., the Greek physician Dioscorides wrote his Materia Medica, establishing himself a place in medical history. As one of the ancient world's most knowledgeable herbalists, Dioscorides found that mistletoe helped cure his patients of external tumors. He wrote that it “has the power to disperse, soften, drawing and assisting tumors of the parotid gland and other lesions…” Some forty or so years later, Pliny the Elder wrote of the treatment of sores and epilepsy with mistletoe in his Natural History. He also described its use in magic and ritual.

The Druids and Abundance Rituals:

Pliny wrote that Druid elders performed rituals in which they harvested mistletoe - a botanical parasite - from oak trees with golden sickles. It was collected under a waxing moon phase, and then fed to animals to guarantee their fertility. As part of the rite, a pair of white bulls were sacrificed, and if prayers were answered, prosperity would be visited upon the villages.

The Romans and Saturnalia:

No one loves a party like the ancient Romans, and their festival of Saturnalia is one of the most well-documented celebrations of the Winter Solstice. This week-long bacchanal included exchanging of gifts, lots of food and wine, dancing and music. Slaves got the week off work, courts were closed, and all kinds of debauchery took place. This festival honored Saturn, of course, and he was an agricultural god. To keep him happy, fertility rituals took place under the mistletoe. Today, we don't quite go that far under our mistletoe (at least not usually) but it does explain where the kissing tradition comes from.

Jesus and the Naughty Mistletoe:

As the Roman Empire crumbled and Christianity spread, a rumor began in France that the cross upon which Jesus died was made of mistletoe. As punishment for its involvement in the crucifixion, the plant was forbidden to grow out of the earth, and was demoted to being a botanical parasite. It now has to have a host plant, such as the oak or the ash, apparently more well-behaved and virtuous trees.

Mistletoe as Medicine Once More:

During medieval times mistletoe was again recognized for its medicinal properties, and appears in several folk remedies. To ward off demons, twigs of mistletoe could be hung in bundles over a door. In some countries, springs were placed in the stable to protect livestock safe from local witches. Mistletoe was also known to rural people as the best cure for barren women; in fact, mistletoe seems to have been a cure-all for any problems with conception, because early societies were baffled by its method of propagation. Interestingly, the Cherokee people used the North American strain of mistletoe as an abortaficient.

Mistletoe as a Parasite:


The plant we know today as mistletoe has no roots of its own. What it does have is tiny extensions called holdfasts, that grip onto the bark of the host plant. They also serve as a sort of umbilical cord, and suck the nutrients from the host. Because of its dependence on the host, mistletoe is only found on living trees. Mistletoe plants can be either female or male; only the female has the beautiful but highly toxic berries.

Grow Your Own Mistletoe:

Because mistletoe is a parasite, you can grow your own fairly simply - as long as you're willing to sacrifice another plant as a host. The kind available in the stores at Christmas is harvested while immature, so don’t bother trying to use those berries as starters for your plants. Instead, wait until spring, when you can pick some plump, white, mature berries.

Be sure to get one from a host plant similar to the one you wish to use as a host for the new growth. Choose a hardy branch on a healthy mature tree, and make a few small incisions in the bark. the further up you can go, the better - it allows for more sunlight to reach your seedlings. Remove the skins from the seeds, and place them inside the tree bark. Cover the seeds with some jute or other protective covering, or you'll end up with a big bird feeder and no mistletoe.

Plant lots of seeds, because you need both males and females to propagate the new growth, and only about ten percent of seeds actually germinate properly. It takes about five years, but eventually your mistletoe will reach berry-producing size.

Remember, mistletoe berries are poisonous. Consuming large quantities of leaves or berries can be fatal – especially to young children, who have been known to ingest berries. If someone is suffering from mistletoe poisoning, get them to an emergency room - do not try to treat this yourself. Mistletoe should not be used by nursing moms or pregnant women.

Mistletoe and Magic:

The great thing about mistletoe is that if you use it magically, you don't have to worry about taking it internal. Considering all of its wonderful magical properties, it can be used in many different ways.

    * Place leaves in a pouch for an ill person to carry on their person.
    * To draw love to you, hang mistletoe over your door.
    * Place leaves in a sachet for a woman having trouble conceiving.
    * The Norsemen laid down their arms if they met beneath a growth of mistletoe - why not use it in a working to end strife and discord in your life?
    * Follow the ways of the Druids, and hang mistletoe to bring abundance your way.

Fun Facts about Mistletoe:

    * American mistletoe, the kind most often associated with kissing, is one of 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide but one of only two that are native to the United States. The other is dwarf mistletoe.

    * Twenty species of mistletoe are endangered, so be careful what you pluck from the forest for your next holiday party.

    * Phoradendron, the scientific name for American mistletoe, means "thief of the tree" in Greek. Although not a true parasite in scientific terms, mistletoe comes close, sinking its roots into a host tree and leeching nutrients from the tree to supplement its own photosynthesis.

    * Sadly, the translation of the word “mistletoe” itself isn’t very romantic. A few centuries back, some people apparently observed that mistletoe tended to take root where birds had left their droppings. “Mistal” is an Anglo-Saxon word that means “dung” and “tan” means “twig,” so mistletoe actually means “dung on a twig.”

    * The growth of mistletoe had little to do with the bird droppings, and a lot to do with the birds themselves. Mistletoe seeds are extremely sticky and often latch onto birds’ beaks or feathers or the fur of other woodland creatures, hitchhiking to a likely host tree before dropping off and starting to germinate.

    * The dwarf mistletoe doesn’t have to rely solely on hitchhiking to find a host tree. The seeds of the dwarf mistletoe can explode from ripe berries and shoot as far as 50 feet.

    * Despite its parasitic tendencies, mistletoe has been a natural part of healthy forest ecosystems for millions of years.

    * Mistletoe is toxic to people, but the berries and leaves provide high-protein food for many animals. Many bird species rely on mistletoe for food and nesting material. Butterflies lay their eggs on the plants and use the nectar as food. Mistletoe is also an important pollen and nectar plant for bees.

Mistletoe Lore:

Celtic Lore:

Five days after the first new moon following the winter solstice, Druid priests cut mistletoe with a golden sickle from a special oak tree and had to catch the mistletoe before it hit ground. The plant was distributed among the people to hang over their doors for protection against evil in the coming year.

Norse Lore:

Balder's mother so loved her son that she exacted a promise from all things never to harm him. Only the parasitic mistletoe did not take a vow. Loki, the trickster god, gave a spear made of mistletoe to Balder's blind brother Hod and helped him aim it at his "invulnerable" brother. Balder was killed. Frigg's tears became the berries of mistletoe. When Balder was restored to life, Frigg made mistletoe a symbol of love.

It was a Scandinavian custom that if enemies met under a mistletoe bearing oak tree, they would lay down their arms until morning.

Mistletoe in Dickens Pickwick Papers:

From the centre of the ceiling of this kitchen, old Wardle had just suspended with his own hands a huge branch of mistletoe, and this same branch of mistletoe instantaneously gave rise to a scene of general and most delightful struggling and confusion; in the midst of which, Mr. Pickwick, with a gallantry that would have done honour to a descendant of Lady Tollimglower herself, took the old lady by the hand, led her beneath the mystic branch, and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum.


Mistletoe in Washington Irving Christmas Eve:


Here were kept up the old games of hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple, and snap dragon; the Yule-clog and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe with its white berries hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.
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May your summers and winters be short, springs be mild and autumn reaping plentiful.

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Tylluan
 
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