Herbs | Berries | Fruits | Nuts | Oils | Tea | Vegetables

Mistletoe Berry

The stem is yellowish and smooth, freely forked, separating when dead into bone-like joints. The leaves are tongue-shaped, broader towards the end, 1 to 3 inches long, very thick and leathery, of a dull yellow-green colour, arranged in pairs, with very short footstalks.

 

The flowers, small and inconspicuous, are arranged in threes, in close short spikes or clusters in the forks of the branches, and are of two varieties, the male and female occurring on different plants. Neither male nor female flowers have a corolla, the parts of the fructification springing from the yellowish calyx. They open in May. The fruit is a globular, smooth, white berry, ripening in December.

 

Europeans plant Viscum Album, which has oval evergreen leaves and white waxy berries, with two to six in a cluster. The other is the American Phoradendron serotinum, which looks similar to the Viscum Album but has shorter, wider leaves and 10 or more berries in a cluster. Birds are the usual carriers of mistletoe seeds.

 

They eat the fruits and drop them onto branches. A sticky substance called viscin keeps the seeds stuck to the branches until they are ready to penetrate the host and start feeding. Different birds eat mistletoe berries to spread the seeds, without ill effects, but not every type of bird eats them.

 

The juice of mistletoe berries is extremely sticky. In South Africa, the juice is called bird lime. Ripe berries can be chewed, and the pulp rolled, to form sticky strands that are woven between tree branches like spider webs. Birds and small animals touch the strands, and are caught, making them easy to retrieve. This is a form of trapping.

 

European mistletoe has a long history in herbal medicine and even as a winter fodder crop – so it’s not as bad as many think. It is definitely NOT edible for humans – but it is eaten readily by livestock when they can reach it. Small quantities eaten by livestock should not be a problem, but large quantities should be avoided.

 

Dried mistletoe is widely available as a therapeutic herbal tea in continental Europe, Some of the Lectins may be reduced in the drying process.

 

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