Forage Friday #38 Mistletoe

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While mistletoe is not known to have ever caused human death it is toxic and is likely to make you very sick. I normally wouldn’t include such a plant in a Forage Friday post however it does have a market value as a Christmas decoration could feed you indirectly if you’re crafty enough to collect it and transform it into decor to be sold as such for a profit.

Throughout the Appalachian Mountains the bare branches stand out in contrast to the sky. However, along the Kanawha River some of the trees still have thick green clusters of leaves that seem to form lose spherical shapes in random locations in the trees. In winter this is the tell tale sign of mistletoe.

As stated in the warning above mistletoe has no food value. It is a parasite to the tree that hosts it and often causes deformation of wood. It’s peg like root grows into the cambium layer and diverts nutrients from the branches. The white sticky seeds are toxic except to birds. In fact, the only thing that mistletoe has going for it the culture that’s provided a niche for it to fill.

I have done a little research on the origin of mistletoe as a Christmas tradition and following is a very abbreviated layman’s version of the tradition of kisses under the mistletoe.

Well before that famous kiss between mommy and Santa Claus the mistletoe plant was a symbol of love and benevolence in the Norse cultures. I know that Thor gets all the Press because of Marvel’s Avengers and Stan Lee’s wonderful imagination but back the Baldr ( Sometimes spelled Balder) was the big hero. In the Norse mythology Baldr was a god with a pretty impressive talent. He was invulnerable. So much so that the other gods made a game of testing their weapons on him. However, Loki managed to learn that Baldr’s one weakness was mistletoe and depending on the version of the story struck him with either a dart or an arrow made from mistletoe. Which of course lead to Loki being asked to leave the party in an unceremonious manner. Everyone was bummed out over the death of Baldr including the mistletoe. So the Norse gods struck a deal with mistletoe. ( everything in Norse mythology has a personality) Mistletoe would promise never allow itself to be used as a weapon again ( in spite of the fact that it is a poison) and in return the gods would make it a symbol of love.

Then in 18th century England (and presumably because the myth had gained some resurgence ) a “game” was created where merrymakers were allowed to steal a kiss from any girl caught under the mistletoe. There also seemed to be a rule that for each kiss a white berry was removed from the sprig and once the berries were all gone the kissing game was over.

I have tried to learn how the mistletoe tradition made it into the Christian traditions of Christmas. As the church began to adapt it’s own versions of the pagan holidays many the elements were converted and assigned an alternative myth. However, mistletoe seems to have been more tolerated than adapted and therefore I could no alternate myth.

I did mention that if you’re crafty enough to make a kissing ball that mistletoe might provide a little extra holiday income. I couldn’t find any special instructions for preserving mistletoe however Southern Living magazine recommends harvesting the sprigs with a shotgun. Now I like to shoot guns but I’m going to recommend that you use a pole pruner so as not to have little holes in your decorations. 😉

I did a quick check on Amazon for a mistletoe kissing ball and an 8 inch diameter plastic kissing ball was priced at $12-$15. My gut feeling is that a well made natural mistletoe ornament should be worth at least $25 and there’s plenty of craft shows and farmer’s markets to sell them in.

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