For years the tradition has always been that if you happen to walk under the mistletoe that you in turn will be kissed, but how did this tradition truly come to be?
Back in the day, Druid Priests from an area that is now modern-day France, would try to ward off evil by hanging mistletoe over their doorways. It was also said to increase fertility. The reason for it needing to be suspended from a doorway was due to them thinking that mistletoe held magical powers and it would lose them if it touched the ground.
Most plants have already lost their leaves and visual appeal come winter, however mistletoe continues to grow and has become a staple in holiday décor for centuries upon centuries.
It was even said at one point that if two enemies were to cross paths below a tree containing mistletoe that they were to both lay down their weapons and observe a truce until at least the next day.
More and more people came to learn about mistletoe when Virgil the Roman Poet wrote about an otherworldly plant in the Aeneid. While on a journey to learn his future and attain entry into the underworld, Aaeneas must obtain a “golden bough” aka mistletoe. It was believed this plant could be a master key for all locks, not just the underworld. It was also said that its “seed of fire” — which was the white berries that it produced – would provide light to people traveling in the dark.
But when did folks begin puckering up underneath the mistletoe? In the 18th century the British made festive décor such as what are now known as kissing balls to hang from their doorways. They would hang a ball made from mistletoe, with ribbons, and sometimes ornaments and suspend it from a ceiling during the winter holiday season.
It has been said that if a young woman was kissed under the mistletoe that future romance or a lasting friendship would be ahead of her. Every time a couple would kiss a berry would be removed. Once all the berries were removed the good luck and the kissing would cease.
In modern days we know that mistletoe is a partial parasitic plant. Meaning that it needs a host to take nutrients from in order to survive. However, it is only considered partial parasitic because it can also fend for itself if it needs to by using photosynthesis to survive.
The mistletoe that is common to us here, Phoradendron flavescens, is native to North America and grow from New Jersey to Florida. The other type is Viscum album, which is the European more referred to version. It is more of a shrubby plant with white berries that typically grows on apple trees, but occasionally on oaks as well, although that is much rarer. The mistletoe found on oaks has always been considered more powerful and sacred.
While in many places the history seems to be long forgotten, the tradition continues. So much in some places such as in Canada that if a couple in love kisses under the mistletoe that it is interpreted as a promise for them to marry. Most often these days people place a sprig or two of mistletoe over a doorway for the same effect.
Where can you purchase your own mistletoe? Most garden centers that sell greenery and wreathes this time of year will likely have mistletoe for sale as well.
Otherwise, you can always find some online on Amazon. I have also heard that area big box sores such as Walmart, Home Depot (they even have a paint color named Mistletoe), Bed Bath and Beyond, Michaels, Lowes, Target and even Etsy online, with their handmade items, have mistletoe available.
Remember that mistletoe is mildly toxic to pets and needs to be kept out of reach of dogs and cats.
There is a chance that most places sell only artificial mistletoe, which will last you forever it would seem. It is up to you to decide if the artificial version is as lucky as the real deal.
So, if you are desiring a holiday kiss from perhaps your one true love, don’t forget to hang the mistletoe.
Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.