227: Mistletoe

Today’s the Winter Solstice, and you know what that means, right? Mistletoe! Gathered on this day for an extra amount of good luck and protection. Traditionally the mistletoe is only considered good luck if it doesn’t touch the ground, thereby keeping its status as a magical “flying” plant that hangs between the heavens and earth.

American mistletoe’s scientific name is Phoradendron leucarpum as opposed to the European variety which is Viscum album. Both varieties have been used in traditional medicine, although caution should be taken with American mistletoe as it is much more toxic than its European counterpart. Several Native American peoples have used mistletoe in medicinal preparations and smoking mixtures, but in the Ozarks it’s mostly known as a magical plant. Here are some quotes from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore” about mistletoe, note the influence of European folklore:

“It is very bad luck to bring cedar boughs or mistletoe into the house, except during the Christmas season. Mrs. Isabel Spradley, Van Buren, Arkansas, says that every bit of green stuff must be out of the house before midnight on January 5, or some unspeakable calamity will overtake the whole family. Many old people feel that it is better not to have mistletoe in the house at all.”

“Mistletoe leaves are made into a remedy for dizziness and head noises.”

“The leaves and stems of mistletoe are made into some kind of ‘love medicine,’ but the whole matter is very secret. I have on two occasions seen women boiling big kettles of mistletoe out of doors but was unable to get any details of the procedure.”

“Mistletoe is used somehow by women who wish to have children, and some say that it can be administered by the husband, without the wife’s knowledge or consent. If a woman cannot conceive, the power doctor may take nine little switches and tie a knot in each. Then he burns them and makes the woman eat the ashes.”

“One often hears that mistletoe, known as witches’ broom, is used in casting magic spells and the like. Some farmers hang a bunch of mistletoe in the smokehouse, ‘to keep witches off’n the meat.’ About Christmas time the country boys make a little money by gathering mistletoe and sending it to the city markets. These fellows all say that mistletoe doesn’t come from seeds but grows spontaneously out of bird manure.”

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