European mistletoe, a plant without which Christmas time is hard to imagine

European mistletoe, a plant without which Christmas time is hard to imagine

15th Mar 2021

Christmas time without European mistletoe (Viscum album) is hard to imagine. European or common mistletoe belongs to the family Santalaceae, sandalwoods, which consists of 1000 species in over 43 genera. Being a parasitic plant, European mistletoe draws nutrients and water from several types of trees on which it grows. The plant is most abundant on willows, apple trees, lindens, poplars, and Hawthorne.
Mistletoe stem isolated on gray background Distributed throughout Europe and Asia, this plant forms a drooping yellowish evergreen bush on the branch of the host tree. The bush can reach 2-3 ft (60-90 cm) length. Branches of the European mistletoe are thick, crowded, and decorated with lance-shaped leathery leaves. Arranged in pairs each on the opposite side of the branch, the mistletoe can be 2 inches (5 cm) long. Mistletoe flowers are yellow and bloom in winter. 
European mistletoe has been an integral part of many legends and myths throughout history. The Celtic tribes used mistletoe as a remedy for barrenness in animals, but also as an antidote to poison. The significance of this parasitic plant in the Celtic world was so immense that two enemies who met under the same mistletoe would lay down their weapons and exchange greetings. Druid priests used a golden knife to harvest mistletoe and then passed it around to celebrate the new year.

In ancient Greek mythology, heroes used mistletoe to access the underworld. This parasitic plant was also present in the ancient Rome myths and tales, Scandinavian mythology, and has a prominent role in Christianity. The Christian world wasn't always open to the idea of using mistletoe. When Christianity reached Europe, many habits and customs were integrated into the new religion, and that's how the well-known tradition of kissing someone under the mistletoe has become irreplaceable during Christmas time. Back in time, it was believed that kissing under the mistletoe could lead inevitably to marriage. But, before the plant was integrated into the new religion and its customs, it was banned from Christian ceremonies due to its pagan origin. As time went by, the Christian leaders incorporated the plant into the new religion that spread across the European continent.

Besides its role in legends and myths, the mistletoe was also well-known for medicinal potential. For centuries, people from different cultures have used European mistletoe to address conditions such as arthritis, headache, and seizures.* In Europe, mistletoe is also used to manage some types of cancer.*

Mistletoe leaves and fruits
Leaves, stems, and berries, which arise from the flowers and are filled with sticky and semitransparent pulp, are used to make extracts. Dietary supplements that allow people to take mistletoe orally are also available.
The health benefits of the European mistletoe stem from the presence of active chemicals that exhibit their effects. These chemicals could stimulate the immune system too.* The use of European mistletoe could also support the management of heart and blood vessel conditions such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, internal bleeding, and gout.* Additionally, the famous Christmas decoration may help with depression, sleep disorders, menstrual periods, menopause symptoms, and other health problems.*