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From the Jordan Times weekender
by: Ammar Khammash

Holly Parasite or Christmas Mistletoe

A destination to find mistletoe for sure would be the valley below the town of Wadi al Sear, in the surrounding of the spring, look for the shady and humid hillsides. From afar mistletoe appears as dense globes of warm dark-green and in this time of the year with red berries.

If you find mistletoe on fruit trees in fields ask the locals for permission to gather some, usually besides being surprised of your request, they would be grateful as they see this plant as an infection to their trees.

Beware of climbing on decayed branches, and do not attempt any medical application using a homemade preparation of this plant as it is reported in some references as being toxic.

On a fine day the villagers gathered around. There was one oak tree that was different than all other trees in the fields, this was the holly one, the one that holds powers within any of its branches and ability to change earthly fate within its vicinity.

The priest had prepared himself since the early morning, and with an air of holiness he walked up the fields where the community gathered, the village of peasant read-roofed houses was getting farer below, and behind it, the Mediterranean shimmered in cobalt blue.

Climbing the tee, the white-robed priest became a dot of utmost contrast to the rest of the moss-ridden branches enveloped in moist and mushroom smelling air. Up on one side-branch there was a ball of foliage, the only green amidst naked winter branches dormant for the season. The whole scene was tense, and as the indoor cleric struggles with the tree-climbing, eyes of the elders get fixed on him while children sneakily giggle at the slightest sound of a cracking branch.

With a theatrical act, engulfed in a divine aura, the priest pulls out of his robe a sickle of gold. He reaches for the green globe while the sickle's tremors throws golden reflections on people below. As parts of the brittle and dens growth fall down, two alter boys catch the falling plant in a white cloth before touching the ground. Up in the tree, the priest wraps good chunks of the holly growth in white cloth, and prepares for a descending that now appeared to be more difficult. Below the tree the plant gets broken into smaller pieces by the priest and distributed to all present.

Mistletoe is Europe's number one myth plant; it is surrounded by countless variations of stories that seem to have roots in pre-Christianity folk culture.

“Viscum cruciatum” its scientific name, for the species that has red berries, and the one that is most common in Jordan, can be translated to ( Viscum = related to internal organs, gluey and cruciatum = crucified or tortured). Both words give a good reference to its nature and its cultural connotation. In Jordan it spreads in moist fields, on oak, olive, almond and other trees along the mountain areas from Um Qais in the north to Dana in the south. In fact Jordan has the southernmost line of this plant that continues northwards into Europe. The Arabic names of mistletoe include “Hadal- (in Lebanon) and Dabag -which means “sticky”- in Jordan.

Some of the strongest story-lines of this plant is centered on the Myth of the Norse god Balder, who is said to have been slain by a branch of mistletoe and burnt in a great fire. Since untraceable times, mistletoe has been the object of superstitious veneration in Europe. Pliny mentions in great details its worship as being “sacred only if it grows on oak…, a remedy against all poison…., should be gathered without the use of iron, and not to be allowed to touch the earth”. There is also a clear connection between the harvest of this plant and the moon, as its power is most potent when picked according to the observation of the moon, after the first or fifth day.

In some parts of Europe it is said that for this plant to have any power, it must be cut in unusual way, shot down with an arrow or knocked down with stones, on specific day before the new moon, and to catch it with the left hand as it falls. Mistletoe, growing as globes on deciduous branches, was believed to have been produced by a flash of lightening, and thus its good effect to protect against lightening and conflagration in general. It opens all locks and is efficient against sorcery and witchcraft.

Away from superstitious beliefs, mistletoe has been used in medicine to prove much of its older fame as “all healer”. The white-berried mistletoe (Viscum album) has been documented as a traditional treatment for diabetes and high blood pressure. In one experiment, children living in areas exposed to the radiation fallout from Chernobyl with recurrent respiratory infections were treated with Viscum album, resulting in normalization. Mistletoe extracts represent the most important unorthodox oncology therapy in Germany. Ethnobotanical surveys carried out in Palestine showed the use of this plant to treat skin diseases and prostate cancer.

“Good in almost every disease” this holly plant is seen a palnt fallen from the sky, a gift from the

Divinity. This belief is not very far from the truth as the plant actually falls from above, not from heavens but from the intestines of birds. Mistletoe has an interesting spreading agenda. It produces seeds in berries attractive to the birds. The inner sees is coated with a tough layer of extremely sticky material that keeps its property through the short digestive system of the bird. Inside the bird, the seeds start germinating with the help of the worm, moist and acrid conditions. As the bird drops the seeds on branches, the sticky coating helps to fasten them on the bark and forms a conduit through which the seeds penetrate their roots into the host tree robbing it from its water and nutrients. While mistletoe is a parasite on other trees, and sometimes on its awn kind, it has a symbiotic relationship with birds, in which they both have mastered an interdependent living strategy.

When mistletoe dries, its color turns gold; it becomes a good Christmas decoration, particularly above doorways where it reminds us to continue the tradition of “the kiss under the mistletoe”.


•  Red-berried mistletoe, abundant in Jordan in fields that are shady and humid, dries into a golden color to give the best natural Christmas decoration.

•  Mistletoe ( Viscum cruciatum ) is said to have fallen from heaven, it is surrounded by divine superstition.

•  As a parasite, this plant never touches the soil as it roots in the bark of other trees, robbing them of their water and nutrients.


Copyright © 2005 Flora of Jordan. All rights reserved.