Wild Mistletoe with a Swag of Spanish Moss
The lights are shining on Christmas trees throughout the land. Doorways and chandeliers are festooned with mistletoe tied with bright red ribbon. Tender lassies stand on tiptoe to plant soft lips on freshly shaved cheeks still bright with the bloom of youth beneath this festive foliage.
No one actually seems to know for sure. So I turned my investigative mind onto the problem last December and quickly discovered…ain’t no one hanging the stuff in my house this year!
Though the legend is that a couple kissing under the plant gain good luck for the following year, the reality is that any young girl found near a bunch was fair game for grabbing and planting a kiss on–whether wanted or not. In fact, the grabbing even got so far out of hand that, according to an old book some countries applied fines for following the custom, The Customs, Superstitions, and Legends of the County of Somerset relates, “Iceland, once paffed laws and very fevere ones too, againft it and if the lafs [lass] confented, the law demanded three marks.”
Misteltoe is a parasite that gets nutrients from its host plant–usually hardwood trees like oak. The word mistel means dung (not actually a word I usually connect with sweet passion.) Though the plant causes diarrhea if eaten, the reason its name is derived from excrement is because birds eat the berries and defecate the seeds. (Somehow none of this makes me feel like snuggling under a bunch.)
But there is more. Because of the resemblance of the sticky white berry juice to certain…er…excretions on the part of males, the plant is associated with fertility and is considered an aphrodisiac. Thus, the tradition of kissing comes from a desire to be fertile (again, not something I’m looking for this year…or next…or ever again…)
Most people are unaware that the magic only works if the man plucks one berry off for every kiss he exchanges with a woman. When all the berries are gone, so is the plant’s potency.
I gather the man kisses the woman, crushes the berry, and winks as if to say, “Hey baby, want to see more of this stuff.” And the woman is so overcome by his virility and sexual potency that she succumbs to more than his lips. Then they have such great uh… excretions that their partnership is blessed.
So let us leave the mistletoe. It makes a wonderful nest for all sorts of birds including spotted owls and marbled murrelets. In fact, mistletoe is considered a keystone species. It serves as both food and nesting place for many animals. According to National Geographic’s web site, “Janis Dickinson, a professor of natural resources at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, has found that mistletoe is crucial for western bluebirds. The plant provides a winter food source that can keep young males home with their parents, allowing the birds to build thriving cooperative family units, she said. ‘The mistletoe is probably what gets [the bluebirds] through the cold spells when insects are not active,” she added. “It provides a constant berry crop all winter ..’”
Go ahead and buy a sprig to put in your doorway but as for me, I’ll take my love to the beautiful bunches hanging in the oaks on the hill and exchange a kiss for luck there with the wind in my hair and the sun on my back. Now those are aphrodisiacs we can all agree on.