December 26, 2018

Mistletoe and medicines

By Leonard Perry

Most people associate mistletoe with kissing, as it’s customary for anyone caught standing under a sprig of this plant (often strategically placed in a doorway) to receive a kiss. But did you know that mistletoe, now considered a Christmas plant, was used as a religious symbol in pagan rites centuries before the time of Christ?

These ancient people believed mistletoe could cure diseases, make animals and humans more fertile, provide protection from witches, and bring good luck. In fact, mistletoe was so sacred to the Druids that if two enemies met beneath a tree on which it was growing, they would lay down their weapons, exchange greetings, and observe a truce until the following day. When the Druids found mistletoe growing on an oak tree, they used a golden knife to remove it, taking care that the sacred plant did not touch the ground to protect its special powers. They then sacrificed a white ox to consecrate the event. Mistletoe was not allowed in Christian places of worship for many years because of its widespread acceptance in pagan ceremonies. But it is not clear just how it became part of the Christmas holiday season.Before getting carried away with this symbol of love, be aware that the European mistletoe has been used medicinally for many centuries, and still is.  It has been used as a general cure for most ailments, particularly in Korean and Chinese medicine.  Consult your pharmacist or doctor before using this plant for other than decoration.

Leonard Perry is a Horticulture Professor Emeritus at UVM.

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