Scouting Mistletoe



High in the boughs of oaks and ponderosa pines grows the ariel parasitic herb known as mistletoe.

During the Christmas and solstice seasons people have been known to hang it from a ceiling or doorway and may even be found kissing each other beneath it.

This ritual kiss, symbolizing romance and love, was revived by the Victorians. Its origins date back to ancient pagan fertility rituals.

The Vikings and Celts believed that mistletoe boosted fertility in humans and animals. These are only two of the many cultures with their own special rituals and mythologies associated with the plant.

When Balder, son of Frigga, the Viking goddess of love and beauty, was killed, her tears brought him back to life. The white berries of the mistletoe represent those tears.

Five days after the new moon following winter solstice (the shortest sunlit day of the year), Celtic Druids cut mistletoe from the sacred oak tree with a golden sickle. They distributed sprigs among the people for protection against evil spirits and storms.

Mistletoe was thought to heal body as well as spirit.

Lesley Bremness' writes in her book "Herbs" that the leafy twigs are "toxic in volume" but they do "stimulate the immune system" and are used as a "heart tonic."

According to, mistletoe means "all heal" in the Celtic tongue. Certainly a kiss at the right time from the right person can make life, at least momentarily, better.

Other mistletoe lore holds that enemies who happened to meet beneath a mistletoe-endowed tree would lay down their weapons, exchange a friendly greeting, and keep a truce until the following day.

This would seem to me to be the logical time of year to bring a plant that still symbolizes goodwill and happiness into one's home. And where better to buy mistletoe than from a child whose youth group harvested it as a fund-raiser? (I confess: I simply never thought of buying it from a florist.)

During the years I lived in "Lost" Angeles and the years on either side of that adventure spent in the Valley of the Sun, I purchased real mistletoe from real Boy Scouts.

Why have I never seen Girl Scouts selling mistletoe? Would that be as sexist and politically incorrect as a middle school kissing booth on Valentine's Day?

But I digress.

One or two of the young uniformed chaps would be standing out in front of a grocery store, leafy green and white vegetation in one hand, green and white bills in the other.

"Would you like to buy some mistletoe?" they asked.

I could harvest my own mistletoe in the Rim Country, but for five bucks on a cold Dec. evening last year it was easier to buy an ounce of sprigs from a uniformed boy in Safeway's doorway.

He looked too old to be a Cub Scout, but maybe he was. Curiously, in conversation with three Boy Scout troop leaders this year to find out if their troops were selling mistletoe again (none are), each thought another troop had sold it last year.

Hmmm. Was last year's Boy Scout a renegade with a capitalistic spirit?

If so, who was he and what did he spend my $5 on? I can't do the math, but the young man could be the next apprentice to Donald Trump -- harvesting mistletoe costs 10 cents per pound and requires a permit from the Forest Service.

Was he earning money to buy his favorite Girl Scout a present?

More importantly, did he see mommy kissing Santa Claus and thus knows why adults really buy mistletoe?

According to the name for American mistletoe is Phoradendron serotinum -- "Phora" meaning thief and "dendron" meaning tree.

Mistletoe is a parasite. It sends its roots into the host tree to partake of the tree's nutrients.

Aha! That makes it midnight clear: Kisses can be stolen under the mistletoe.

I hope all of your stolen kisses are perfect. But watch out for sneaky parasites.

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