So where DO you get yours?

In the wake of the the NT ‘buy British mistletoe’ campaign this week you might be wondering how you can, confidently, buy British.   And you might also like to spend a few minutes completing the new online questionnaire on where you buy your mistletoe, as data from that can help secure the future of the British crop.

So how do you buy British mistletoe?  Well, there are three main options, buying local, buying in a supermarket and buying by mail-order.

Local:  From independent greengrocers, farmers markets and roadsides stalls.   Only reliably British if you’re in, or near to, ‘Mistletoe Country’ (Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire or Somerset).   Outside these areas any unlabelled mistletoe could be from anywhere.

Though there are honourable exceptions.   The picture shows mistletoe being sold at Cotehele, a National Trust property in Cornwall, well beyond the usual mistletoe harvesting areas, but with its own locally-grown stock.  (If you want to know more about Cotehele’s mistletoe watch this video, or wait for ITV’s Countrywise programme on 20th December…)

Supermarkets: Many don’t stock mistletoe at all, and you might suspect that those that do might source it from abroad. But have faith! Some big names do stock British mistletoe – including Tesco (£2 for a some rather tired-looking sprigs in a bag), Waitrose (not sure yet on pricing or condition) and even Lidl, who are planning to sell UK-sourced stock (from Tenbury Wells, via Suffolk) soon.

Mail-order: The most reliable way to get British mistletoe if you’re outside the main growing areas.  A few specialist websites, notably Tenbury English Mistletoe Enterprise (TEME), and InterMistletoe (who are Suffolk-based but sell Tenbury mistletoe).  Plus a few others (will add some more later) and some smaller scale sellers on Ebay

But do be wary of some mail-order firms. There’s a very attractive-sounding offer from Thompson & Morgan at the moment – selling 2 sprigs of mistletoe in a kiss-themed hanging bag for £1.99, discounted by 80% from £9.99.   Sounds good, and looks good in their picture (left).   But there’s nothing about provenance, so assume this is imported, not British, and probably already past it’s best (why else sell it so cheap?).  Plus the promotional picture clearly has about 4 or 5 sprigs, so I expect the 2 they send won’t look half as good.   Oh, and you have to add £4.95 shipping.  So the price isn’t quite so right either.

What do you do if… you can’t buy British, or always have difficulty getting fresh mistletoe? GROW YOUR OWN. It’ll take a few years to get established but once it’s established you’ll be self-sufficient.  You’ll need a suitable host tree of course.  For information on Mistletoe Grow-kits, and Grow-kit Vouchers for Christmas visit the English Mistletoe Shop.


Please spend 5 minutes completing the 2010 Mistletoe Questionnaire!!

And why not buy the book? www.buy.mistletoe.org.uk

 

Not a whiff of mistletoe

A few days ago, someone told me that they didn’t hang mistletoe, but they did use mistletoe candles every Christmas, because they liked the mistletoe smell.  I pointed out, gently I hope, that mistletoe doesn’t have a scent.  To which they replied, indignantly, “yes it does”.

But, er, no, it doesn’t.

Mistletoe may be a winter evergreen, but it has no discernible smell.  So what on earth are all those mistletoe-scented candles, and oils you see peddled in the shops every Christmas?

Well, if you believe they’re anything to do with mistletoe, you’re being conned.  The only property they have in common with mistletoe is they are (usually) green or white, and they appear at Christmas.  There the similarity ends.

I’m not sure what the ‘mistletoe scent’ is, but after a bit of googling came up with these descriptions:

No help from this one:  “Perfumed with  ‘Country Lane Mistletoe’  – Just imagine you are taking a walk down a country lane on a frosty winters day…  the aromatic scent of fresh greenery, top notes of pine and plump Mistletoe berries will fill your home with a welcoming crispy, clean perfume that is sure to please.”

But this one’s honest at least:  Mistletoe:  “A festive pine scent with a top note of sweet berries and green apples. The heart is the scent of Siberian pine needles.  This fragrance oil is infused with natural essential oils, including Fir Needle, Cedarwood, Fir Balsam and Treemoss”.

This one says it’s masculine (urgh!):  Mistletoe Clean Car Gel Scent: Described by Yankee Candle as…”Many have fallen under the spell of this mysteriously charming provocatively masculine scent. Energizing.”

And here’s another honest one: From a review of a Yankee Mistletoe Candle: “The best thing about the mistletoe candle is that it smells exactly like a fresh cut pine Christmas tree.  I find the smell to be sweet and very woodsy.”

Marks & Spencer’s description is impressively unhelpful:  “Set the mood with this gorgeously scented pillar candle.”

There are a lot more I could quote, but the consensus, from those that admit it, seems to be that ‘mistletoe-scented’ stuff is actually pine-scented, or similar.  Why not say it’s pine scented then?  Dunno – but pine-scented makes me think of disinfectant and soap, so perhaps it’s just re-branding that scent for Christmas, hoping no-one notices it’s not mistletoe, it’s disinfectant.

Please spend 5 minutes completing the 2010 Mistletoe Questionnaire!!

And why not buy the book? www.buy.mistletoe.org.uk

Frosty mistletoe

A few views of yesterday’s mistletoe auctions at Tenbury.

It was about -8C when I arrived, following a night of freezing fog – which made the mistletoe look rather spectacular.

The berries, curiously, seem to become more opaque when frozen, and lose their pearlescence, but that should come back when they’re defrosted.

Business seemed a little quiet at first, but soon picked up – with buyers arriving from as far afield as Cornwall, and even one man-with-a-van from the Netherlands.  He told me that he came “for the adventure”.

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Mistletoe Crisis!?!

Well, yesterday was interesting.  Loads of mistletoe coverage on radio and TV following the National Trust news story about future of the mistletoe crop.  Lots of slight, and sometimes major, distortions of the story too.

What was the story?  Basically it was about the risk of losing the British Mistletoe Crop (I’m stressing that last word deliberately).  Most mistletoe is cropped from traditional apple orchards, in the sw midlands, where it grows abundantly and is easy to reach.  The ongoing loss of those apple orchards means that this crop/harvest will inevitably become more difficult in future, and so supply of mistletoe at Christmas will become limited, possibly very limited.  Which is, probably, not a good thing (though it would push mistletoe prices up!).

Here’s a direct quote from the story (full story here):

If mistletoe became more inaccessible because of an ongoing decline of traditional orchards and a loss of its main host, fruit trees, then it might become more a premium product with more scarce supply.

So, this is an argument for trying to keep our traditional apple orchards – adding the continuity of the mistletoe crop to all the other arguments for trad orchards – keeping old apple varieties, conserving historic landscape, traditional fruit harvesting, cider-making, juice-making, community focus, and not forgetting biodiversity.

Lots of coverage of this mistletoe angle to orchards, particularly on BBC News and in online versions of  newspapers.  A few examples:

BBC:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11933118 and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11934027 and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11932767

Guardian:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/07/mistletoe-vanish-20-years-national-trust

But, as usual, the media twist the story somewhat.  Many have re-written it to be a threat to mistletoe itself – which it clearly isn’t.  This is a story about the threat to the cropping of mistletoe, not a threat to mistletoe as a species in the UK.

Nothing unexpected in this media distortion of the story (normal behaviour in my experience!), but it is very frustrating, as readers and commentators are getting the wrong story, and are pooh-poohing it as they can’t see a threat to mistletoe as real.  Well that’s because it’s not about a threat to mistletoe.  It’s about a threat to the UK crop, and is making a case for better management of our remaining traditional orchards to help protect that crop long-term.

Why is that so difficult to get across?

Actually, the BBC coverage (TV version) was very good, but some of the versions that made it to local radio were a bit wide of the mark.  The Guardian’s online headline “Mistletoe could vanish within 20 years, says National Trust” was exactly the wrong thing to say – and many of the resulting comments did show a complete misunderstanding of the issue.

If you’re interested in this mistletoe cropping issue, do take part in our mistletoe: where do you get yours? questionnaire – linked below:

Remember to do the mistletoe survey! www.british.mistletoe.org.uk

And why not buy the book? www.buy.mistletoe.org.uk

“Where do you get yours?” results so far

Have you taken part in the Mistletoe: Where do you get yours?  Questionnaire?  Why not?  It’s gathering data on where we (in Britain) buy our mistletoe, and how we use it, to help assess attitudes towards the British crop and to start to get some real figures on how it is used.

You can take part via www.british.mistletoe.org.uk

Here are the results so far – sample size is still small (under 100), so these can only be seen as very provisional – I hope we’ll have a lot more data in a week or two.

And we’ve only had a handful of answers to question 12 (the one about what else do you do with your mistletoe) so far – though those answers are very interesting.

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Thanks to SurveyPirate for hosting this survey.

The truth about the kiss-me-slow beetle?

Just been emailed the proofs of a paper I wrote a month or so back, reviewing knowledge of the various mistletoe insects we have in Britain.  There are, currently, six.  All considered rare, but all ‘under-recorded’ as we ecologists put it because so few entomologists pay any attention to mistletoe (it’s difficult to record the specialist insects of a plant that grows at the tops of trees).

So they might not be rare at all.  And 2 of them were only discovered, in Britain, in the last 10 years.  Which means either a) they are new colonists to the UK or b) they simply hadn’t been noticed before.

One of the new boys is the Mistletoe Weevil – a cute little beetle called Ixapion variegatum. Labelled, by the media, the Kiss-Me-Slow beetle, when it was first found, by National Trust Ecologists in 2000, this little (3mm max) beastie is becoming a little controversial.  The accepted wisdom is that it is ‘associated’ with stressed (i.e. not looking very well) mistletoe.  This is because it is usually only found on stressed mistletoe.  The assumption is that it prefers stressed mistletoe to live – and this is used as an argument to conserve old trees overgrown with mistletoe – as these will inevitably have stressed mistletoe and so should attract the weevil.

But is this true?  Which came first?  The stressed mistletoe or the weevil?  The weevil’s life cycle involves egg-laying into mistletoe stems, just below the terminal bud of each shoot, with larval weevils living, and feeding, inside that shoot until they become adults.  At this stage they eat their way out of the stem to meet’n’greet other adults, mate, and start over.

This summer I monitored several populations of these weevils, and realised that their larval feeding within the terminal shoot, and their eventual exit as adults, was causing enough damage for those shoots to die (see pics left – click to enlarge).

So the weevil causes the shoot to die –  which could mean that instead of the weevil searching out stressed mistletoe because it prefers it, it could be that the weevil seeks out unstressed mistletoe, lays a load of eggs, which create stressed mistletoe through dieback, just as the adults emerge.

And so yes, you’ll find adult weevils on stressed mistletoe – but that’s because they created it, not because they prefer it.  If this is true, then the argument to conserve overgrown mistletoe-laden trees to help the weevil might be exactly the wrong thing to do.

The weevil truth is out there somewhere…

But we need more data….

Remember to do the mistletoe survey! www.british.mistletoe.org.uk

And why not buy the book? www.buy.mistletoe.org.uk

Mistletoe Day 2010

A few pictures from yesterday’s Mistletoe Day activities in Tenbury Wells, as a slideshow (top) and as clickable images below:

(edit:  btw, in case you’re wondering, the pics of the mistletoe-covered apple tree in the snow were taken whilst Reg (the bloke with the harvesting pole in the pics) and I were waiting for the BBC TV crew – who were a little late arriving, so our toes got very cold….)

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Remember to do the mistletoe survey! www.british.mistletoe.org.uk

And why not buy the book? www.buy.mistletoe.org.uk

 

Mistletoe Medicine arrives in Kent

Back in the summer I was surprised, and disappointed, to hear that the Park Attwood Clinic, a centre for complementary medicine near Kidderminster, had closed.  It was, as far as I’m aware, the only in-patient centre for mistletoe therapy in the UK.

What’s mistletoe therapy?  Well, it’s a complementary therapy for cancer treatment, used alongside conventional therapy, and incredibly popular in Europe.  About 40% of cancer patients in Germany are prescribed mistletoe therapy, and mistletoe preparations are one of the best-selling cancer drugs in western Europe.

Not in Britain though.  We don’t seem to have embraced the therapy nearly so much.  It’s never quite clear why.  It does have very Germanic roots, pioneered in the 1920s and 30s by Rudolf Steiner, amongst others, and still mostly prepared and administered using his anthroposophic approach.  And the technique is not without controversy, but this blog isn’t the place to discuss medical pros and cons.

I had heard, on the grapevine, that the centre had actually simply relocated, to Kent, but I wasn’t sure where or when.  So it was useful, and reassuring, to have an email today from the Raphael Medical Centre in Hildenborough, near Tonbridge, announcing resumption of the therapy there.

The medical team is led, as before, by Dr Maurice Orange, and there are outreach clinics in Gloucestershire (I assume that’ll be St Lukes Clinic here in Stroud), Aberdeenshire, Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire and Devon.

For a full list of mistletoe therapy centres in the UK please visit http://www.mistletoetherapy.org.uk/ and click on Therapy Centres.