Meet the Golden Bough aka mistletoe–a Christmas plant that hangs from the rafters harboring many secrets. First, it is, indeed, a hemi-parasite as our title hints (“the Christmas Plant Parasite”). It is nourished by the host plant but it does some work on its own.
The plant is practically worshipped around the holidays for its supposedly aphrodisiac qualities. The Druids, too, once worshipped it but for different reasons. It kept witches away and prevented nightmares.
Other cultures used mistletoe to treat illnesses (epilepsy, nervousness) and to regenerate missing fingernails (a common affliction in the Middle Ages).
The Romans used it for sacred ceremonies. If the plant touched the ground while being collected, however, it was considered sullied. The Celtic collected mistletoe with scythes … carefully. The Japanese Ainu considered it more potent if discovered in a willow tree.
The European mistletoe with white berries (rather than red) is known as Viscum album. This European cousin is far more interesting conversation than the American variety.
V. Album contains a potent protein known as lectin viscumin that became newsworthy when it was said to kill cancer. Though the FDA does not back these claims, Suzanne Somers signed on for it. And the Three’s Company star is still alive. The National Institutes of Health is a repository for the current findings.
Think of the power of a plant next time you’re caught beneath a mistletoe this season. Then watch out for that kiss … incoming!