Perspectives on Mistletoe by Herbalists and Writers Through the Ages

Mystical Mistletoe

December 23, 1978  
On this day, The Oshkosh Northwestern, out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, published a story called Mystical Mistletoe Is Historical Sprig By Pat Vander Velden.

Pliny the Elder, a first-century Roman naturalist, was one of the first freelance writers to recognize mistletoe as a lucrative story idea. He chronicled the esteem that the druids held for the mystical evergreen that grows on oak, elm, apple, hawthorn, and poplar trees. 

According to Pliny, the druid’s name for the plant was ol-liach "all heal." The druids thought it could cure everything from sterility to the common cold.

As late as the 17th century, Nicholas Culpepper said,

"Mistletoe is good for the grief of itch, sores, toothaches, and the biting of mad dogs and venomous beasts."


Nathaniel Hawthorne was not that impressed. In 1855 he wrote about mistletoe and called it

"An uninteresting plant with white wax-looking berries dull green on parasitical stem."


Hawthorne was puzzled by the raging fad of the day.

"The maids of the house did the utmost to entrap the gentlemen, old and young, and there to kiss them. After which they were expected to pay a shilling."

Obviously, Hawthorne was frugal and didn't approve of paying for his affection.


Probably the most famous of writers to refer to mistletoe is Charles Dickens. In The Pickwick Papers, Mr. Pickwick kisses Lady Tollimglower under the mistletoe.

"Mister Pickwick, with a gallantry that would have done honor to a descendant of Lady Tollimglower... led her beneath the mystic branch and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum..."


The custom of kissing under the mistletoe is lost somewhere between the druids and Dickens.

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Pat Vander Velden
Pat Vander Velden

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