Mistletoe has a rich folkloric history. Most of us associate the plant with the celebration of Christmas and the winter holidays. And of course, kissing beneath the hanging sprigs…But the use of mistletoe goes back to ancient cultures including the Greeks, Norse and Druids, who revered the plant for its powerful health benefits and ritual symbolism.
Rich History and Mythology
The origins of mistletoe’s kissing tradition are somewhat unclear. Some say this practice relates to the Celtic Druids’ ritual use of mistletoe in fertility ceremonies. Others speculate that the tradition originated when Christianity became widespread in Europe and incorporated pagan ritual use of mistletoe for Christmas. Ancient Greeks regarded mistletoe as a life-giving plant and used it in marriage rites and other ceremonies. Still others connect the kissing tradition to ancient Scandinavian rituals and mythology. In fact, throughout ancient Europe, mistletoe was regarded as a symbol of romance, fertility and vitality. So the practice of kissing beneath it may be a relic of Old World traditions that date back thousands of years.
Mistletoe was also known to the Native Americans and used throughout the Americas as a health promoting tea. In fact, there are over 900 species of mistletoe found throughout the world. It is considered a parasitic plant, with roots that grow on the branches of other trees such as oak, sharing (or stealing) the host tree’s nutrients. Interestingly, mistletoe can obtain energy during photosynthesis, but it appears to prefer taking nutrients from its host.
Beware the Powers
The species most commonly used in Europe is Viscum album, while the predominant North American species is Phoradendron serotinum. These two varieties contain similar compounds, but historically they have been used for different health applications. European mistletoe is used much more commonly than the American version, but beware: A number of species have been associated with potential serious side effects and toxicity. So if you are considering using mistletoe as a targeted health supplement, it’s critical to consult with a healthcare practitioner experienced in this area.
However, with the right applications and under qualified guidance, mistletoe and its extracts may offer powerful benefits. For example, compelling data on mistletoe’s benefits against cancer continue to emerge from the published literature. Furthermore, strategic application of specialized mistletoe preparations may support the immune system, cardiovascular health, joint comfort and neurological health.
The origins and meanings of ancient traditions are often obscured throughout the ages. Ritual use of mistletoe is one of these ancient traditions that survived into the modern age, carrying with it an air of mystery and a rich mythology. In looking at its historic use across the world, though, one thing is certain: The power of mistletoe isn’t just for kissing!
Happy Holidays from ecoNugenics!