Sunday, December 9, 2012

European Mistletoe {Viscum Album}

{originally posted on the nefaeria blog in 2008, with a wee bit of updating}

photo by Rupert Ganzer
Along with conifers, poinsettias and holly, mistletoe is one of the plants most associated with the Yuletide season, so it is a perfect time to post about it I think.

There are other types of mistletoe, but for this post, I am focusing on the European or Common variety.

Other Names: Herbe de la Croix, All-Heal, Birdlime, Devil's Fuge, Mistletan.
Description: The European mistletoe is native to Britain, as well as to much of Europe. It is a hemiparastic evergreen that lives in mostly deciduous trees, and is compatible with at least 200 different host species.
It forms 'bushes' on the branches of trees, that are anywhere from 1.5 to 6 feet in diameter. The leaves are shaped like a tongue and they have white, round berries whose sticky juices have been noted to resemble semen.
Warnings: As with all herbs, one should make sure to be thoroughly informed before ingesting them, and is best to do so under the guidance of a qualified healer.
"Raw, unprocessed mistletoe is poisonous. Eating raw, unprocessed European mistletoe or American mistletoe can cause vomiting, seizures, a slowing of the heart rate, and even death." 
As well, they point out that in countries such as Germany have mistletoe that is available for therapeutic injection. There are potential side effects such as
"itching or redness in the area of the injection. Less commonly, side effects may include more extensive skin reactions, low-grade fevers, or flu-like symptoms. There have been very rare reports of more serious allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing.'"
Also, avoid while pregnant, as it is known to cause contractions of the uterus.
Cultivating: Germination for the mistletoe usually begins once a bird's business is dropped on a its new host; the seeds sprout from the pile of bird poop, and then takes root in the bark of the tree.
The mistletoe mainly uses its host as a source of water and mineral nutrients, while its leaves do some photosynthesis. It usually bears fruit around the Winter Solstice.
According to Mrs. M Grieve, one could quite easily cultivate their own mistletoe simply 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 hardy to about a zone 5, and grows best in dappled shade. Brother Aloysius suggests that it be gathered in Autumn or Winter and that it should be dried and stored in sealed containers.
Medicinal/Remedial Properties and Lore: Antispasmodic, cardiac, cytostatic, diuretic, emmengogue, haemostat, hypotensive, narcotic, nervine, stimulant, tonic, vasodilator.
Culpeper said that
"misselto doth molify hard knots, tumours, and a cephalic and nervine medicine, useful for convulsive fits, palsy, and vertigo."
Brother Aloysius recommended it for a variety of ailments including watery gall, jaundice, internal sores, convulsions and whopping cough.
Today mistletoe is mainly used for headaches, to lower blood pressure, to relieve anxiety and sleeplessness, and there are studies being done in it's effectiveness in combating cancer.
a holiday postcard, circa 1900
Magical/Spiritual Properties and Lore: It is said that Cesar saw Druids five days after the new moon following the Winter Solstice, climbing into oak trees and cutting mistletoe with golden sickles for ritual use. There are disagreements as to whether it was actually mistletoe or holly that they were cutting down.
According to Paul Beyerl's Master Book of Herbalism mistletoe is good for fertility, protection and visionary workings. For a Yule ritual in his book, people should toss a mistletoe berry into the hearth-fire to represent those personal things that one desires, as the sun comes back.
In some traditions, mistletoe is associated with solar deities because it bears fruit as the sun it at it's lowest point , and also lunar deities because of it's round, white fruit.
Once gathered, many sources say that it should not touch the ground, and it does indeed have many potential uses.
For protection, in Culpeper's Complete Herbal, he says that is can be hung around the neck to remedy witchcraft. Also, sprigs can be hung on doorways to protect houses from lightening and evil spirits; it can be placed by a cradle to avoid faeries {careful that little hands can't reach it!}; hung in a barn to protect a herd of cattle and buried in a field to protect a crop.
For this time of year, string up some mistletoe to get some kisses ;)
Where this custom actually originated from I am not sure, but there are a few that I have seen:
One involves the Norse God Baldr, who is killed by an arrow made of mistletoe, that is shot by Loki. After Baldr dies, Frigg cries and her tears become the white berries. In one version of the story, Baldr comes back to life, and Frigg is so happy that she blesses the mistletoe and says she will bestow a kiss to anyone who stands underneath it.
Under the Mistletoe, 1873
Another folktale says that if warring foes came under a tree with mistletoe on it, they would lay down their arms and kiss each other as a sign of peace.
I use mistletoe for various types of workings, including ones for protection, health/healing, divination, exorcism, fertility, romance, sexuality, and activities in the wild {hunting, camping, wildcrafting}.
Other Uses: It has long been thought that mistletoe is just a pest that not only kills off trees, but degrades entire habitats. But, according to a study done on the relationship between junipers and mistletoe, the mistletoe can actually play a role in protecting biodiversity.

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