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Home Mistletoe Day and Mistletoe

Mistletoe Day and Mistletoe

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Here's a link to a BBC radio programme you may enjoy, courtesy of Robin Whitehead:


This is a fine old Druidic tradition we might wish to think about reviving ourselves on the Isle of Wight come next December.

Have a listen and see what you think.


MISTLETOE (Viscum Album)

Description and Habitat: Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic shrub that grows on branches of trees where it forms a bush 2 to 5 feet in diameter. It will grow and has been found on almost any deciduous tree, preferring those with soft bark. Most common on old Apple trees, it is also frequently found on the Chestnut, Ash, Hawthorn, Black Poplar, Lime and Larch. It very rarely grows on Oak trees.

When one of the familiar sticky berries of the Mistletoe comes into contact with the bark of a tree - generally through the agency of birds - after a few days it sends forth a thread-like root, flattened at the extremity like the proboscis of a fly. This finally pierces the bark and roots itself firmly in the growing wood. The wood of Mistletoe has been found to contain twice as much potash and five times as much phosphoric acid as the wood of the foster tree. Mistletoe is a true parasite in that it does not derive nourishment from the soil or from decayed bark like some of the fungi do - all its nourishment is obtained from its host.

It has repeatedly forked green stems and opposite pairs of tongue - shaped leathery leaves and bear small heads of unisexual yellow-green flowers in May. The female flowers are solitary; the male flowers occur in clusters of three to five. The female flowers give way to white berries containing one seed which ripen in December.

Mistletoe is always produced by seed and cannot be cultivated in the earth like other plants, hence the ancients considered it to be an out-growth of the tree. By rubbing the berries on the smooth bark of the underside of the branches of trees till they adhere, or inserting them in clefts made for the purpose, it is possible to successfully grow Mistletoe.

Mistletoe is found throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa and in England is particularly common in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. In Scotland it is almost unknown. The North American mistletoe is a different species.


Common Names: Devil's fuge, Herbe de la Croix, Lignum crucis, Mystyldene, Druidhe-lus, Uile-ice.

In Gaelic, Misteltoe is called ‘Druidhe-lus ” which means ‘Druid Weed’ and “Uile-ice” which means ‘All Heal’. In Brittany, where the Mistletoe grows so abundantly, the plant is called ‘Herbe de la Croix’ and elsewhere ‘Lignum Crucis’ because according to an old legend, the Cross of the Crucifixion was made from its wood and for this reason it was degraded to be a parasite.

The English name is said to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Misteltan’, ‘tan’ signifying twig, and ‘miste’l from ‘mist’, which in old Dutch meant birdlime; thus Mistletoe means 'birdlime twig,' a reference to the fact that the berries have been used for making birdlime. However, others consider the name derives from ‘tan’, a twig, and ‘mistl’, meaning different, from its being unlike the tree it grows on. Another explanation of its common name is that it is derived from the Celtic ‘mil'ioc’, meaning ‘AllHeal’. In the fourteenth century it was termed 'Mystyldene'. The Latin name of the genus, ‘Viscum’, meaning ‘sticky’, arises from the glutinous juice of its berries.

The Thrush is the great disseminator of the Mistletoe, eagerly devouring the berries and the Missel Thrush is said by some to derive its name from this. The stems and foliage have been given to sheep in winter when fodder was scarce and they are said to greatly enjoy it.

Parts used: The leaves and young twigs, collected just before the berries form, and then dried.

Medicinal uses: Caution - The berries are highly poisonous and the herb should only be prescribed by a qualified practitioner. Mistletoe slows and steadies excessive heart rate and dilates the arteries, thereby lowering blood pressure. It acts directly on the vagus nerve to reduce heart rate while strengthening the peripheral capillary walls. It also has a sedative and tonic effect on the nervous system. It is particularly useful when high blood pressure is associated with nervous tension and a high pulse rate, as well as for symptoms of nervous tension and spasm.

Mistletoe has been used for headaches, dizziness, energy loss, irritability and other symptoms connected with raised blood pressure as well as checking internal haemorrhages. It has also been suggested that mistletoe may have anti-tumour abilities.

Mistletoe has an old reputation for curing epilepsy although large doses of the plant or of its berries, would, on the contrary, aggravate such convulsive disorders. Sir John Colbatch published in 1720 a pamphlet on ‘The Treatment of Epilepsy by Mistletoe’, regarding it as a specific for this disease. He procured the Mistletoe from the Lime trees at Hampton Court and recommended the powdered leaves, as much as would lie on a sixpence, to be given in Black Cherry water every morning. Other writers recommended it for sterility.

A Mistletoe tea can be used as a wash for chilblains and leg ulcers and made into a compress for varicose veins. The Native Americans used it to cause abortion and it has also been used as an oral contraceptive. Country people used the berries to cure severe stitches in the side. The birdlime made from the berries was also employed as an application to ulcers and sores. In Sweden, persons afflicted with epilepsy carried a knife having a handle of Mistletoe to ward off attacks.

Caution: Mistletoe should be avoided during pregnancy.

Additional Comments and Folklore: Mistletoe is peculiar in the manner of its growth in that the branches always turn toward the tree to which the plant is attached. It is perhaps this curious habit which made the ancients think of it as a visible God protecting its sacred tree.

Shakespeare calls it 'the baleful Mistletoe,' an allusion to the Scandinavian legend that Balder, the God of Light, Joy and Peace, was slain with a dart or arrow made of Mistletoe. He was restored to life at the request of the other Gods and Goddesses, and Mistletoe was afterwards given into the keeping of Frigg, the Goddess of Love, and it was ordained that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss, to show that the branch had become an emblem of love, not of hate. Mistletoe was suspended from ceilings and doorways to dispel evil spirits and encourage good spirits (and lots of kissing!) while women tied a sprig around their waist in the hope of conceiving!

The Germanic Tribe called the Teutons thought it made them invincible in battle while the Romans believed it could unlock the door to Hades.

Pliny the Elder, in his Naturalis Historia written during the first Century AD, associates the Druids with mistletoe and oak groves: "The Druids...hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree on which it grows provided it is an oak. They choose the oak to form groves, and they do not perform any religious rites without its foliage..." Pliny also describes how the Druids used a "gold pruning hook" or "sickle" to gather the mistletoe. Pliny also wrote ”[Druids] call [Mistletoe] All Heal and any growing on [oaks] they regard as sent from heaven and a sign that this tree has been chosen by the Gods themselves. Mistletoe is, however, very rarely found, and when found, it is gathered with great ceremony and especially on the sixth day of the moon. They prepare a ritual sacrifice and feast under the tree, and lead up two white bulls whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion. A priest attired in a white vestment ascends the tree and with a golden pruning hook cuts the mistletoe which is caught in a white cloth. Then next they sacrifice the victims [ie. the bulls!] praying that the Gods will make their gifts propitious to those to whom they have given it. They believe that if given in drink the mistletoe will give fecundity to any barren animal, and that it is predominant against all poisons."

Mistletoe was only sought when the Druids declared they had visions directing them to seek it. When a great length of time elapsed without this happening, or if the Mistletoe chanced to fall to the ground, it was considered as an omen that some misfortune would befall the nation. The Druids held that the Mistletoe protected its possessor from all evil and that the oaks on which it was seen growing were to be respected because of the wonderful cures which the priests were able to effect with it.

The white berries of the Mistletoe represent the male aspects of the Sun God and were used to invoke fertility and the awakening powers of the Sun. At the Winter Solstice where Holly is representative of the "Holly King," the king of the waning year, the mistletoe is representative of the "Oak King," the king of the waxing Year. Druids would send their attendant youth around the countryside with branches of the Mistletoe to announce the start of the New Year.


For more details on Mistletoe festivals and celebrations, see the following link to the Mistletoe Foundation.



Last Updated on Thursday, 26 January 2012 13:30  


#2 wightdruid 2011-01-05 01:33
Wasn't that a wonderful line? I agree we should do something next year and already have a few ideas. Anybody want to join me in the Forum to discuss?
#1 Malcolm 2011-01-04 20:03
"Where are you taking the mistletoe? To the Pub"! I like that lady! Fascinating programme and definitely think we should add this to our calendar. A quick look at Google gives a lot of links for the Tenbury Wells Mistletoe Auctions and Markets but little about the ceremony. I am sure we can create a Yule Mistletoe ceremony. With a Mistletoe Queen. That should be fun!



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