Myth has it that the Druid priests of ancient Europe used golden sickles to harvest mistletoe, and believed that it had to be caught before it hit the ground. They may have used mistletoe for fertility rituals – hence the modern-day kissing under the mistletoe – and it is likely that they cut it for the winter solstice, many traditions of which have merged into contemporary Christmas customs. The use of holly and ivy to decorate the home is another Christmas tradition of Druidic origin.
Find Wild Mistletoe
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows in the upper branches of hardwood trees, such as ash, oak, or hickory. It is fairly easy to find wild mistletoe in most temperate countries, and European mistletoe – the one most associated with golden-sickle bearing druids, kissing, and Christmas tradition – can readily be recognised by its pale, pearly berries and dark leaves.
Mistletoe is actually a collective name for several species of plant. However the most common – European and American mistletoes – grow on the same types of tree, share many common traditions (if only by association) and most importantly, either can be used for kissing!
Harvest Real Mistletoe for Christmas
If you are lucky enough to find a small tree, climb up and pluck the plant from the branch, or use a long stick to dislodge it. Otherwise, you’ll need a ladder, and a knife or garden scissors. Keep the Christmas tradition alive by tossing the cut mistletoe to a family member, so that it doesn’t touch the ground!
Indeed, according to Christmas custom, mistletoe should not touch the ground from when it is cut to its removal as the last of the Christmas decorations at Candlemas.
Some people use a shotgun to harvest real mistletoe for Christmas. The idea is that the spreading pellets will be sure to knock at least a few sprigs down, whilst hopefully leaving enough of the plant for it to survive for next year. However, this is not recommended as it could damage the tree.
You can find wild mistletoe in many of the Christmas decorations you might buy or be given as gifts, for example a wreath. Many wreaths can benefit from a light trim, and the clippings can be used inside the home.
Once you have your mistletoe, remember to keep the roots or cut stems in water until it is ready to be used. This will help to prolong its life.