The Origins of Mistletoe
The holiday season is in full bloom, and in the wintery northern hemisphere, that means a lot of holly, ivy, and mistletoe decor. These three herbs, which Lorraine Dallmeier so aptly dubs the "Holy Trinity of Yuletide Herbs" in this Herb Hedge Row blog, are the evergreen faces of Yuletide, thriving in a climate few other plants can endure. Like Yuletide, which predates Christmas as an ancient Pagan religious festival, the traditions behind these three herbs can be traced back to rich folklores from pre-Christian cultures.
Today, we know mistletoe as somewhat of a matchmaking herb -- if you find yourself underneath one with someone else, the mistletoe mandates a kiss. As Dallmeier explains, this may actually be a chaste interpretation of what it was really about:
The third plant in our Holy Trinity of Yuletide herbs, mistletoe is a well-known winter herb. Its use in celebrations dates back to Pagan and Norse times, where its symbolic significance was derived from the fact that it never touches the ground. Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic plant that often grows in the branches of apple trees and was said to grow neither in heaven nor on Earth. Even today some people consider it bad luck to allow mistletoe to touch the ground.
Mistletoe is best known for being hung from our door frames and used to steal kisses during the winter festivities. The origins of mistletoe as the kissing herb are thought to date back to ancient marriage traditions and Nordic folklore. If you encountered an enemy under the mistletoe when you were out in the woods, tradition required that you both lay down your weapons until the following day. This ancient Scandinavian custom is said to have led to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.
Another explanation perhaps finds its roots in pre-Christian cultures where mistletoe was thought to represent the divine male essence, along with fertility, vitality and romance. Although we have given that an innocent twist in the form of a kiss, it is possible that mistletoe was a catalyst for uninhibited sexuality at a time of year that was traditionally already associated with the rebirth of life.
Learn more about yuletide herbs at Herb Hedge Row!