Mistletoe is the generic name for a type of hemi-parasitic plant (it provides part of its food itself, part from the host plant) which attaches itself to the branches of trees and shrubs. The most popular mistletoe used at Christmas is the European viscum album.
British Mistletoe is harvested in neighbouring counties to Warwickshire, such as Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. These counties are also well known for their apples, and apple trees are one of the favourite hosts of mistletoe plants. However the distribution in these counties is more likely down to the favourable climatic conditions and the hosting by apple trees is merely a coincidence. It is big business this time of year though: three auctions are famously held annually at Tenbury Wells for wholesalers to purchase their supplies.
Mistletoe’s link to Christmas is tenuous. It is thought that the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas is only a couple of hundred years old but it has been thought of as a symbol of fertility for far longer. It is most likely to date back to Greek and Norse legend as well as druidic tradition (where the oak is seen as the preferred host tree). It is also mentioned in the Arthurian story of Gawain and the Green Knight as a way of tempting the knight. In this year of commemoration of 100 years since the outbreak of WWI, it is poignant to recognise that it is also seen as a symbol of peace and was used in good luck cards at that time.
If you want to know more about Mistletoe during its most famous months of the year (and others), have a look at Jonathan Briggs’ blog ‘Mistletoe Matters’ which is regularly updated in the months leading up to Christmas.
With thanks to The Mistletoe Pages .