Mistletoe: The Evolution of a Tradition
According to Norse mythology, Balder, the god of Peace, was slain with an arrow made of Mistletoe. After Balder was restored to life, his mother, Frigga, pronounced Mistletoe to be sacred and, to ensure that it be considered an ongoing emblem of love and not one of hate, that anyone passing beneath it should receive a kiss. It is this tradition that is still in practice today, as we “kiss beneath the mistletoe.”
Though there’s much myth surrounding Mistletoe, it also has the slightly less-than-romantic distinction of being known as a ‘parasite plant.’ (Not something we’re likely to think about, when we’re standing beneath it!)
It’s considered a ‘parasite’ due to the nature of its growth habits, as Mistletoe is unable to grow on its own from soil or decaying matter. It requires the nourishment of host trees such as the oak, birch, ash, hawthorn, apple, or larch.
The white berries of the Mistletoe exude a sticky juice that helps the berry adhere to the host tree, once in contact with its bark. (The botanical name for European Mistletoe, Viscum album, actually derives from the Latin description of its berries: sticky (Viscum) and white (album).) Over the next few days, a small root-like structure called a ‘haustorium’ emerges from the adhering berry, pierces the bark of the host tree and burrows into the wood to establish itself firmly in its new growth spot.
The history and lore of Mistletoe is a classic example of the association our ancestors have had with plants, through all of time!