The name comes from the fact mistletoe starts from bird droppings made from the red or white berries. It is a parasitic plant and roots to the branches of trees. Thus “mistle” or “missel”, which meant “dung”, and “toe”, which came from the Anglo-Saxon “tan” meaning “twig.” There are over 900 species of mistletoe and it grows on a wide variety of trees.
Ancient Greeks considered the plant an aphrodisiac and believed it
aided in fertility. Norseman believed mistletoe was a plant of peace
and when enemies met under the mistletoe they were obliged to stop
fighting for at least a day. Eventually, this spawned a tradition to
hang mistletoe over the doorway for peace and good luck.
It became associated with Christmas from the tradition of hanging
mistletoe in one’s home to bring good luck and peace to those within
the house. It hung year round and was replaced each Christmas eve or
at New Year.
During the 16th century in Britain, it became popular to create a
ball of mistletoe hung as a Christmas decoration. Couples standing
under the mistletoe were to kiss if the mistletoe ball still had
berries. For each kiss, one berry would be taken from the ball. Once
all the berries were gone, all the “luck” was drained out and it
became bad luck to kiss beneath it.
Mistletoe leaves and young twigs are used by herbalists, and it is
popular in Europe, especially in Germany, for treating circulatory
and respiratory system problems.