This time of year we usually associate mistletoe with romance. Think the song, "Meet me under the mistletoe," where Randy Travis sings he'd like a sweet kiss as his first gift on Christmas Eve. Wander beneath a sprig, and you might find yourself fair game to the nearest set of lips. But turns out there's much more to this festive plant than kissing and holiday merriment!
Human folklore and tradition
Mistletoe has long been a part of human folklore and tradition. In Europe, the Druids and other ancient peoples believed that mistletoe possessed supernatural powers because it remained green in winter when the trees lost their leaves. Because of this, the Druids used mistletoe for sacred rituals during the winter solstice.
About the kissing
Washington Irving wrote about the kissing tradition in 1820 in The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent: “The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases.”
Two species are native to the US
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.
Mistletoe is actually a parasite
The scientific name Phoradendron translates to “thief of the tree.” This name is perfect, since mistletoe is a parasite that steals water and nutrients from the tree it lives on. Because mistletoe depends upon a host for survival, it requires a specialized dispersal mechanism that delivers seeds to tree branches.
Mistletoe is poisonous
Mistletoe is toxic to humans. Eating any part of the plant can cause drowsiness, blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and seizures.
The true meaning is far from romantic
Named for its seed, the word “mistletoe” is derived from two Anglo-Saxon words that meant “dung and twig”. Rather ironic a parasitic plant called “dung on a twig” can be a symbol of love and vitality.