Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Herbs and Spices - Mistletoe

The fifth in my series of Christmas Herbs and Spices is something that you probably hadn't thought of for this category but mistletoe is indeed an herb. No, you won't want to ingest it and shouldn't. Old Europe used it for epilepsy and other nervous disorders. Today it is being studied as a supplemental treatment for cancer. BUT it can be very dangerous and is best left to professional practitioners to prescribe. The berries are toxic to children and small animals, causing acute gastrointestinal problems and diarrhea combined with a low pulse. Beware if you are using one in your home as a Christmas decoration.

Mistletoe is actually a parasitic plant that grows attached to branches of trees and shrubs. How the mistletoe got its name is uncertain -- perhaps from the German word Mist for dung and Tang for branch. Not a pleasant thought to a plant we associate with love but that name may have come about because it can be spread through bird feces as the birds hopped from tree to tree. More acceptable, to me, is the old English word Mistel which was also used for basil.

The fruit of the mistletoe appears at the time of the Winter Solstice, or the beginning of the new year. The Druids considered it to be a symbol of immortality. Both Celts and Druids thought it to be a remedy for barrenness.

I found this wonderful story of Norse mythology about the part that you are all most interested in -- kissing :)

Baldr was a god of vegetation. His mother Frigga made every plant, animal, and inanimate object promise not to harm him, but she overlooked the mistletoe plant. The god Loki took advantage of the oversight and tricked the blind god Hoor into killing Baldr with a spear made from mistletoe. Baldr's death brought the world to winter, until the gods restored him to life. Frigga then declared the mistletoe was sacred and ordered that from now on it should bring only love rather than death into the world. From that point on she declared that any two people passing under the plant would celebrate Baldr's resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe.

But why is it associated with Christmas? An old Christian tradition said that mistletoe was once a tree and furnished the wood for the Cross. After the Crucifixion, the plant shriveled and became a parasitic vine.

Whatever story is accurate or myth you choose to believe, I hope your Christmas season is filled with much love and perhaps even a kiss or two!

Don't forget to visit An Herbal Bedfellow for healthy recipes made with herbs, and also my newest blog:
Happenstance House -- A journal about my Victorian home and all of it's contents.

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