Updated: Dec 4, 2020
commonly known as American, Eastern, Hairy, Oak, Pacific, or Western Mistletoe, respectively Family: Santalaceae Habitat: Found growing parasitically in trees
Mistletoe is the common name for obligate hemi-parasitic plants in several different families. These plants grow attached to and penetrate the branches of a host tree or shrub by a structure called the haustorium, this is how they absorb nutrients and thrive. This version of Mistletoe is not the same Viscum Album of Druid fame but it is what grows here in the US.
Druids believe seeing Mistletoe growing upon a Sacred Oak to be an indicator of great sacredness. The winter solstice, called 'Alban Arthan' by the Druids was the time when the Chief Druid would cut Mistletoe from the Oak (it often grows high in trees so I imagine some robed Druid delicately climbing an Oak tree trying to stay balanced as to not lop off his or anyone else's head with his Golden sickle, yikes). Lore states that it was cut on the sixth night of the new moon after the winter solstice. A cloth was held below the tree by other Druids to catch the falling Mistletoe, as it is believed with many Magical plants that it would have destroyed the Magic of the sacred plant to touch the ground. The plant would be divided into many pieces and distributed to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils.
It has been stated that the Druids believed that the white berries produced by the Mistletoe represent the sperm of the Gods, growing high in the branches of the Mighty Oak. It seems that this is the reason today that when you find yourself under a sprig of Mistletoe, it's aphrodisiac qualities ensue and a kiss is inevitable!
It is believed to have miraculous properties which could cure illnesses, serve as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility and protect against witchcraft.
A long time yule tradition is to kiss under the mistletoe. Some say that this began when druids realized that the mistletoe could bloom even in the harshest of winter weather and therefore was a boon for fertility. As such, kissing under the plant would assist any couple hoping to be fertile. Others point to Nordic mythology as mistletoe's claim to fame and indeed it is featured heavily in one of the most important Norse myths. Baldr (or Balder / Baldur) was the most beloved of the Norse gods. The son of Odin and Frigg, he was the shining light of Asgard and was truly a source of joy for the other gods. When Baldr began having horrible nightmares about falling into endless darkness, his usually positive attitude began to fade and he fell into a depression. The gods rallied around in hopes of finding a way to help the sun god. His mother Frigg took it upon herself to ease her son's worries and began a worldly quest. She traveled throughout the nine worlds taking an oath from every substance that they would do no harm to Baldr. Fire, air, water, trees, animals, rocks - they all agreed and by the end of her journey, Frigg felt strongly that her beloved son was safe at last. Greatly
comforted by this news, Baldr returned to his usual self but the gods figured that they should test out the oaths just to be sure. One god picked up a rock and threw it at Baldr - it struck him but did not harm him and in fact, he couldn't even feel it when it hit. The gods thought this was hilarious and as they do, made a game out of throwing other things at Baldr just to "make sure". Eventually this became an uproarious past time for the gods which they all found hysterical. Well all except Loki who seethed at Baldr's new found invincibility. Disguising himself as an old woman and pretending to get lost in Friggs hall, Loki approached the goddess. Through cunning words like only Loki could speak, he pried Frigg for information on her journey. Through his honeyed words, he was able to get Frigg to slip up and reveal that while she did indeed get every substance to swear an oath of never harm Baldr, she didn't bother with that plant that grew west of Valhalla - the mistletoe - as it was too young to be of any consequence. This was the information Loki came to hear, still disguised as an old woman, he excused himself from Frigg's hall and ran straight for the mistletoe. He grabbed a branch and carved it into a long dart and returned to the rest of the gods who were still gleefully throwing things at Baldr. Loki searched the crowd of happy faces until he found Baldr's blind brother, Hod, who was not joining in on the game. Saddened that he had nothing to throw and couldn't participate as he could not see where Baldr was, Loki assured Hod that he could help him.He handed Hod the mistletoe dart and guided his hand towards Baldr. Hod threw the dart and started cheering, clapping and laughing - overjoyed that he could play with the other gods. Suddenly the entire crowd quieted, silence filled the air and Hod instantly realized that something wasn't right. Baldr had been struck by the mistletoe and laid dead before them all. The death of Baldr eventually led to the undoing and destruction of many things - some would say all things. The myths begin to differ at this point;, while most have a more grim ending, others tell of Baldr's resurrection. In those stories, the resurrection of Baldr brought healed Frigg's broken heart causing her to exclaim that she would bless anyone standing under the mistletoe with a kiss. A kiss for Baldr and a reminder to never discard something for being too small as even the smallest things can cause the biggest changes.
(WARNING, this plant is highly toxic when ingested. You should seek expert advice before using Mistletoe in any form. Be safe.)
Druids Cutting Mistletoe on the Sixth Day of the Moon (c.1890) Henri Paul Motte