Need a reason to give a hug? somebody

Published 12:25 am Sunday, December 23, 2007

We want to begin by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas from Penny Rachal, Paula Gaylor, Geraldine Geyen and myself at the Adams County Extension Office. We wish you all the best holiday season with visits and memories from family, friends or neighbors. This is the time of the year we all should look to find the best in everyone perhaps mend or rekindle old friendships and make new ones. Making friends is always easier during times of joy, but it is also a time for us to reflect on those we love and miss as well. If you need help finding a reason to hug someone, hopefully this answer gives you a solution.

Q. How does mistletoe grow on trees, where does it come from?

Mistletoe has an ancient and mysterious history. Around 2,000 B.C. the Celtic Druids in Great Brittan considered it a sacred plant and used it to counteract poison, increase fertility and protect against witchcraft. It was called Allheal in folk medicine and North American Indians used it to treat toothache, measles and dog bites. Early observations noted a plant that would often appear on tree branches where birds left their droppings. The Old English word for dung is “mistel” and the word for twig is “tan.” Combining these you get misteltan, which evolved into the term mistletoe, meaning “dung-on-a-twig.”

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Dung-on-a-Twig is not the only name given to mistletoe. After the sticky, white berry lands on a tree limb a root grows through the bark into the vascular system where it taps water and nutrients. Appropriately, American mistletoe’s scientific name, Phoradendron, means “thief of the tree” in Greek. In the 1600 and 1700s, mistletoe was used in the treatment of epilepsy, nervous disorders and internal problems. Although the mystique of mistletoe has faded with time, research conducted in the 1920s suggested that it might actually have anticancer properties. A note of caution, the berries and foliage of mistletoe are poisonous. Ingestion has caused seizures, vomiting and in extreme cases even death has been documented.

There is more to mistletoe than its association with humans. It is important to wildlife as an essential food, cover and nesting site. Some birds, butterflies and insects are dependent on it for survival. There are more than 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide, two of which are native to the United States. Dwarf mistletoe grows out west and American mistletoe in the east.

Perhaps the most important contribution of mistletoe is its representation of peace. When enemies met under mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day. This ancient custom of hanging mistletoe from the ceiling and exchanging kisses under it as a sign of friendship and good will still exists today. So if you are not sure how to say hello to someone don’t forget to hang some dung-on-a-twig around the house this holiday season and express your affection for that special person.

The Adams County Extension Office will be closed Christmas week and will re-open Jan. 3, 2008. If you need any assistance during this time we can be reached at

David Carter is the director of the Adams County Extension Service.