In fact, there is more than one kind of mistletoe. There are 1,300. The main species is Viscum album, or European mistletoe, from the Santalaceae family. That is the most commonly recognized mistletoe plant. Another type is native to Syria, Spain, Portugal, Lebanon, Palestine, and Morocco. It is called Viscum cruciatum.

There is another type that is native to the United States. Phoradendron leucarpum can be found in the southern and western states in the United States as well as in Mexico. However, most people use the European mistletoe. Why? Who knows? That is one of the things I could not find in all my research. If you happen to know, please leave a comment below.

mistletoe growing in trees

Mistletoe is a Parasite

Seriously, the plant is really a parasite. It attaches itself to a tree or shrub so it can steal its water and nutrients. It has roots called haustoria that grow into and around a tree or shrub to absorb its food and water. The plant does this because it is not able to make its own energy from sunlight and water. It adjusted its metabolism to learn to absorb it from other plants.

Use It to Scare Away the Witches

But what was the reason that mistletoe was found hanging in doorways in the first place? In medieval times, people believed that it kept witches and ghosts from entering the home. Actually, back then, it was believed to do a lot of weird things.

couple kissing under mistletoe

There is an Etiquette to Mistletoe Kissing

In some countries, the belief is that after a woman and man kiss under the mistletoe, the man is supposed to remove one of the berries from the plant. After the berries are all gone from the plant, nobody else is supposed to kiss underneath that plant. As a side note, if you do not kiss when under the mistletoe, you will have bad luck.

Dreaming of Future Husbands

It was also believed that if a young lady places a piece of the plant under her pillow, she will dream about the man she is going to marry. When she wakes up, she has to burn the mistletoe. If the flames burn steady, she will have a happy marriage. If the fire is weak, she may want to rethink her choice.

druids harvesting nmistletoe

Celtic Druids

During the first century, the Celtic Druids believed that mistletoe was a sacred plant because it grew all year long. They thought that since it was the only green plant alive in the winter, it must be magic. They also believed it was a male fertility drug because the seeds resembled semen.

Loki Killed Baldur with It

Also according to Norse Mythology, Loki was able to trick the blind god, Hodur, into killing his twin brother Baldur with an arrow made from mistletoe wood. While everyone was throwing weapons at Baldur to test his invulnerability, Loki helped Hodur aim the mistletoe weapon at Baldur, which killed him instantly.

Do Not Eat the Berries

Mistletoe can cause a variety of issues for people who ingest it. Some of the symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, high blood pressure, seizures, and even heart attack. What is strange is that in the past, the plant was thought to be good for treating certain ailments like infertility, epilepsy, high blood pressure, and arthritis.

cat in santa suit

Do Not Let Your Pets Eat It Either

Although it is okay for wildlife such as birds and deer to eat mistletoe, your cat or dog should not be allowed near it. The plant can cause similar symptoms as in humans including diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, and death.

Mistletoe May Be Able to Cure Cancer

For hundreds of years, people have been using mistletoe to treat certain ailments. While it may not be as good for some of the illnesses, Europeans have been successfully using it to treat cancer. According to experts, an extract from the European mistletoe plant called iscador stimulates the immune system and kills cancer cells.

mistletoe with red ribbon

It Does Not Smell Good

As a matter of fact, mistletoe does not smell at all. It has no scent whatsoever. Even though you can find candles, air fresheners, soaps, and oils that say they smell like mistletoe, the plant itself has absolutely no discernible scent.

How Mistletoe Got its Name

Birds really love the berries from mistletoe. But they cannot digest the seeds inside so that comes out with the bird droppings. Because mistletoe typically grew where bird droppings were found, ancient Europeans called it mistaltan. Mistal means dung and tan means twig so it really means dung on a twig. It was changed to mistletoe sometime in the past few hundred years.

mistletoe in a wrapped box

It Will Always Be Mistletoe

Mistletoe is also known by other names that you may have never heard of. Some of the other names that mistletoe is known as include devil’s fugue, iscador, drudenfuss, golden bough, all-heal, and birdlime. In fact, there are 159 other names that the famous plant is known by all over the world. But we will continue to call it mistletoe and kiss each other underneath it at Christmastime.