Mistletoe is considered a hemi-parasite in the plant world. It is parasitic in that it pulls water and nutrients from the trees and shrubs it grows attached to, but it does do its own photosynthesis. Mistletoe sprouts on plants from seed spread by bird droppings. While it may sound like a destructive and worthless plant that only serves to kill off its host, Mistletoe does actually have food value to many animals and pollinating insects. It also provides nesting sites for some birds. Of course, we humans have enjoyed it for hundreds of years as an ornamental, beneficial or protective plant.
Over the centuries Mistletoe has been thought to be a remedy to poison, protect homes from lightening, fire and witches, and to help with romance. The tradition of kissing under Mistletoe is traced back to 16th century England, but was likely borrowed from Scandinavian traditions, where it was typically hung in the kitchen. When used as Christmas décor in days of old, Mistletoe would often be displayed from one Christmas Eve until the next, when it was replaced with a fresh sprig, thus providing its believed protections throughout the year.
While many of use fake Mistletoe in our decorating, fresh sprigs are often readily available around the Holidays at florists and even in the produce section of grocers. Those living in USDA zone 6 to 10 can likely find it growing nearby. Those in zones too cold to harvest it fresh, may be amused to hear of the Southern U.S. harvesting custom of using a shotgun blast to dislodge clumps of Mistletoe from high up in a tree!
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