Natures Beauty - Mistletoe

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NATURES BEAUTY - CINNAMON

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NATURES BEAUTY - MISTLETOE

My mother loved decorating for the holidays. From the tree in the den to the lights around all the windows and a big Santa decal on the front door, she was all in. She would also hang a sprig of (fake) mistletoe, complete with sharp-edged leaves and white berries, from the lintel of the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. She and my father always shared the first kiss under the mistletoe after she put it up. Once my father stood sentinel under the mistletoe, waiting for my brothers to pass from the kitchen to the living room. He grabbed each unsuspecting son and kissed him resoundingly on the cheek.


Where did that tradition come from? British servants started the practice of kissing under a hanging sprig of mistletoe. The idea was a man could kiss any woman he happened to see standing under the mistletoe. If she refused the kiss, she would have bad luck. After each kiss, one berry should be plucked from the plant. Once the berries are all gone, the sprig no longer has the power to command kisses.


While the kissing tradition surely is nice, mistletoe doesn’t have the best botanical reputation. It is, essentially, an evergreen parasite. It attaches to and penetrates the branches of various trees and shrubs, absorbing water and nutrients from them. This weakens the host plant and could eventually kill it. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) says the name of the most common species of mistletoe in the Eastern United States is Phoradendron, which is Greek for “tree thief.” According to CBS

News, mistletoe is notoriously difficult to get rid of once it infects a tree. You might cut off the visible portions of the plant, but it sometimes grows inside the host plant. Your best bet is to remove the entire infected branch or limb.


Mistletoe’s round masses of branching stems give it the nickname “witches’ brooms.” The NWF says these can reach 5 feet wide and weigh 50 pounds and serve as nests for some species of birds, including chickadees, mourning doves, spotted owls and Cooper’s hawks. Mistletoe not only grows in forests but also in deserts. It is extremely poisonous to people; the berries are also poisonous to cats and other small animals. Eating either the berries or leaves may cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and seizures. However, mistletoe has also been used medicinally. Traditional medicine has promoted European varieties of mistletoe to treat infertility, hypertension and arthritis. In Europe, Iscador, a mistletoe extract, is being used to treat colon, cervix, breast and other cancers. It is said to stimulate the immune system, inhibit the formation of tumors and kill cancer cells. The Food and Drug Administration has not tested Iscador here in the United States.


Here’s hoping you meet someone you truly love under the mistletoe this season, someone whose kiss you will welcome. Even if that doesn’t happen, consider conceding to the tradition. We don’t want you to start the new year with bad luck!


TANYA TYLER

Tanya Tyler is the Editor of Health & Wellness Magazine

more articles by Tanya Tyler