OF all the plants associated with this spiritual time of the year, none I feel has suffered such an undignified fall in status as mistletoe.
In my book, this evergreen plant (along with holly and ivy) represents the unchanging and the eternal, and it still holds ancient, hidden connotations.
And yet, where does it grow now you may well ask, given that most of the old apple orchards have been lost forever to developers and the property market?
Well for starters I can say that mistletoe is mainly native to Europe and can still be found across the UK, mainly around the Humber and Severn rivers, but also in eastern parts of Wales.
It is not however found in Scotland nor indeed Ireland.
Mistletoe, with the scientific name Viscum album, is a small and woody shrub which can reach about a meter in diameter.
Its flowers are produced in the fork of its branches and are pollinated by birds, and these turn to the familiar white berries we see in late winter.
For the reasons outlined, I suspect that much of it is now imported, to be used mainly as a provoker of skittishness at office parties.
Not alone has its relevance as an ancient ‘sacred’ plant been lost, but so too has its (reputedly) magical powers.
At one time it was used to scare away evil, discover treasure and give fertility to the barren.
I take this folklore heavily salted of course, but whilst modern medicine has done away with all these theories, I sometimes think that there may have been more than a grain or two of truth in some of them.
For instance, mistletoe reputedly has nerve soothing properties that calms the respiratory system. Historically it has been used to soothe distress and irritation.
It can also calm the symptoms of mental anxiety and distress.
Extracts are used to give relief to many ailments: calming sore throats, bronchial inflammation, and coughing.
It also lowers tightness in the chest and eases discomfort.
Mistletoe extract has organic compounds and chemicals which have been used for treating cancer in recent years.
Like myself, you can take these claims with a generous pinch of salt.
Look it up on the computer for it claims to have many ailment cures.
Apart from these, mistletoe has many colloquial names, and across Europe can be known as Birdlime, All-Heal, Devil’s Fugue, White berry and Viscum.