MISTLETOE Viscum album
Mistletoe is surrounded by more myths and legends than any other herb. Airborne between heaven and earth, the enigma of a skyborne plant has always been a mystery. The Druids, above all others, revered Mistletoe as the holiest of holies. It was deemed especially sacred when it appeared on an Oak tree, the most sacred tree of druidic lore. Mistletoe was their 'Golden Bough', the key to the heavens and to the underworld. Indeed, it was regarded as the creative essence of Thor himself. Thor is the god of thunder, who presided over the sacred Oak tree, over fertility and abundance. In the druidic tree calendar, the 23rd December is given to the Mistletoe, the day when it was ceremoniously cut.
After offering prayers the chief druid would ascend into the tree to cut the Mistletoe with a golden sickle. Utmost care was taken to prevent the herb from touching the ground. Instead, it had to be caught in a white cloth. Two white bulls, sacred to the Moon-Goddess, all dressed up in garlands were also sacrificed on the holy occasion. The sacrifice of the regenerative power of the solar deity was to bestow blessings of abundance and protection from all evil for the New Year. It was a symbolic marriage of the solar and lunar forces, a harmonisation of all opposites in perfect balance at the turning point of the year. To celebrate the return of the life-force an orgiastic celebration ensued.
To this day Mistletoe twigs are hung in doorways at Christmas time giving permission to kiss, even a stranger, and receive the blessing of the Mistletoe.In some of the rural, more traditional areas of France young children can occasionally be seen distributing Mistletoe blessings on New Year's Day. Running through the village, shouting 'Au gui l'an neuf' (gui de chêne - Mistletoe) they dedicate the New Year to the Mistletoe and invoke its protective blessings. Mistletoe was believed to ward off all evil, bad spirits and witchcraft, and was sometimes worn as a protective amulet. It was also believed to bestow fertility and abundance.
In Norse Mythology Mistletoe inadvertently becomes the agent of death for the *almost* immortal sun-god Baldur. Mistletoe also found its way into Christian mythology as the wood from which Christ's cross was said to have been fashioned. According to Christian morality teaching, it is due to this disgrace that the Mistletoe has been reduced to its parasitic existence.
In Greek mythology Mistletoe was also associated with the Underworld. Here, the sacred bough presented the key with which a living mortal could enter the Underworld and return to the world of the living unharmed, as is told in the story of Aeneas.
Aeneas, a young hero, enters the underworld by the power of the golden bough and the aid of the age-old Sybil as his guide. He enters this frightful place in search of his father to seek his guidance and advice. He finds him and receives his teachings concerning the cycles of life and death, which he had come for. Eventually he returns safely to the world of the living. But it is the Mistletoe that provides him with the key to his destiny and opens the gates to the transformational powers of the underworld from which he returns spiritually reborn.
Mistletoe not only has an interesting mythology, but also a host of medicinal uses. Indeed, the Druids regarded it as a panacea, capable of curing practically any disease. Though their claims may have been exaggerated herbalists still value it highly. Most notably Mistletoe is recommended for conditions of the cardiovascular system. Mistletoe herb improves the pulse, regulates the heart rate and simultaneously dilates the blood vessels, which lowers the blood pressure, thus reducing symptoms such as headaches and dizziness. It is an effective aid in arteriosclerosis and improves the overall function of the circulatory system, which results in a sense of well-being.
Recently another interesting property of Mistletoe has become a matter of scientific interest: its ancient reputation to cure tumours. Modern research has confirmed this ancient claim. Mistletoe preparations show cytotoxic properties in vitro and to some degree in vivo. It has also shown to stimulate the immune system response through an increased number of white blood cells. Both of these properties have made Mistletoe a candidate for cancer and Aids research and these days Mistletoe is even used in chemotherapy.
Mistletoe also has a reputation to regulate digestive functions and curing chronic constipation, probably by stimulating the gall bladder. It also stimulates general metabolic activity and is thus recommended as a blood cleanser. Older sources recommend Mistletoe for sterility and menstrual difficulties. Considering its nervine properties this would make sense where these conditions are due to an underlying nervous condition (stress, tension, hysteria, fear).
Mistletoe is variously mentioned as an effective remedy for epilepsy, especially childhood epilepsy. This treatment reflects a homeopathic approach: large doses of the herb, and in particular of the berries, actually cause fits and convulsions. Mistletoe was considered a specific for this ailment and was also used as a nervine to treat hysteria, delirium, convulsions and neuralgia as well as urinary disorders and heart complaints where these are due to an underlying nervous condition (e.g. stress).
Mistletoe use is no longer used externally, but according to old sources it can be prepared as a plaster (mix with wax to make an ointment) and applied to hardened swellings and tumours. It can be employed in crèmes to soothe sensitive, sore skin. Such crèmes are disinfecting and soothing and reduce abnormal cell production, which could be useful in psoriasis lotions and anti-dandruff shampoos.
Mistletoe is a prime protective herb that bestows good fortune, health, wealth and fertility. It wards off all evil spirits and works of wicked witches. In folk-magic amulets made from mistletoe wood were thought effective in warding off epileptic attacks. Mistletoe is the sacred herb of the winter solstice that signifies transformation, regeneration and rebirth. It is the shamanic key to both, the heavens above as well as the underworld.