The peaceful side of mistletoe

With the centenary of the Armistice tomorrow it seems fitting to briefly re-visit the tradition of mistletoe as a symbol of peace – which is now often overlooked.

Tradition holds that the Romans considered mistletoe a plant of parley, and that opposing armies would negotiate peace treaties under a mistletoe growth. This may, or may not, be strictly true but I doubt mistletoe played an active role in the 1918 peace negotiations.

Other traditions also reference mistletoe as a plant of peace; some versions of the Norse Baldur legend, in which Baldur is slain with a mistletoe-tipped weapon, suggest that his mother Frigga (a goddess of love) decreed that mistletoe must never do such harm ever again – and she proclaimed that all who meet under it henceforth will embrace and be friends.

The Greek legend of Aeneas visiting the Underworld also reflects an element of mistletoe as a peace symbol, with Aeneas using mistletoe, aka The Golden Bough, to gain safe passage to and from Hades.

These aspects of mistletoe tradition are rarely mentioned today – most people simply remember it as a symbol of love, friendship and romance. These are, of course, merely a variation on the same theme. The peace symbolism was perhaps remembered in mainland Europe longer than in the UK, with a strong tradition of mistletoe as a plant of good luck – a Porte Bonheur – in France well into the 20th century and maybe still today. The French New Year greeting Au Gui L’An Neuf  relates to the giving of mistletoe as a good luck gift for the New Year.

1915mtoeediteddown1But, getting back to peace itself, could it be that mistletoe actively seen as a peace symbol – particularly in the awful reality of the Great War? This was, after all, fought on land where mistletoe was still valued for its luck and peace properties.

It’s difficult to be sure – but there is a fair amount of mistletoe imagery amongst pictures of the time, including several sets where soldiers wear mistletoe in their hats. I rather doubt they were expecting to kiss anyone so it seems more likely they wore it for luck.

wwi_silk

There was also use of mistletoe imagery in postcards sent back from the front  – some specifically themed as Peace or Luck – so perhaps those are real proof of the ongoing, at that time, belief in mistletoe as a peace/luck symbol.  But the evidence is patchy, and those postcards could be coincidental use of mistletoe, as a Christmas symbol, simply being used in a postcard sent at Christmas.

It is tempting to make a link though – and there are other possible examples from WW2 that add a bit of weight to the concept. But these too could be coincidental. One of my favourites is a remark Winston Churchill made in December 1944, on his high-risk (but successful) visit to Athens to stabilise the situation there by negotiating with the various Greek factions. On Christmas Day 1944, after flying in secretly, he was billeted offshore aboard HMS Ajax whose captain warned him that despite his mission it might be necessary for the ship to enter into action at any time.  Churchill responded by saying:

“Pray remember, Captain, that I come here as a cooing dove of peace, bearing a sprig of mistletoe in my beak – but far be it from me to stand in the way of military necessity”.  

Was that reference to a mistletoe sprig (rather than an olive branch) merely because it was Christmas – or did Churchill understand that mistletoe was also a plant of peace?

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If you want to grow your own plant of peace and luck why not buy a Mistletoe Grow-Kit (or Grow-Kit Gift Card) from the English Mistletoe Shop?

Details at  https://englishmistletoeshop.co.uk/live/

Some mistletoe events at Tenbury Wells 2018

Tenbury is hosting its mistletoe auctions and festival again this year.

auction1Mistletoe Auction dates are:

  • Tuesday 27th November
  • Tuesday 4th December
  • Tuesday 11th December

All take place at Burford House Garden Stores, Burford, Tenbury Wells, WR15 8HQ and are organised by Nick Champion.

 

druids1Druid Mistletoe Ceremony is on Saturday 1st December
This is organised by The Mistletoe Foundation who will be on the Burgage in Tenbury Wells for the Mistletoe Ceremony at 2pm as part of Tenbury Mistletoe Festival 2018.

The ceremony will honour the Mistletoe, male and female plants, and the harvests of the Teme Valley.  Participants (all welcome) are invited to meet at S.E.N.S.E (Temeside House, Teme St, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, WR15 8AA) at 1.15pm. The procession to the Burgage will begin at 1.45pm. Or you can join in at the Burgage from 2pm.

Other Mistletoe Festival Event information will be available soon – you can check the Tenbury Mistletoe Association website (showing last year’s events at present)  or their facebook page for updates.

Radio Gloucestershire, despite the snow

kateclarkI was talking mistletoe, and mistletoe Grow-Kits, with Kate Clark from Radio Gloucestershire this morning. In the studio in Gloucester, despite the snow.

Can’t add audio direct to the blog but click the link below to go an extract of the mistletoe bit:

http://mistletoe.org.uk/audio/BBCGlos10thDec2017.mp3?_=1

Or, for the whole programme try iplayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001y3bx/episodes/player

And for Grow-Kits themselves try here:  https://englishmistletoeshop.co.uk or here: http://growmistletoe.co.uk

December 1st, National Mistletoe Day! 

From the Daily Telegraph, 29th November: “A buyer carries bundles of mistletoe away after the first Christmas holly and mistletoe auction of the season in Tenbury Wells, Worcs, an event 160 years old”
From the Daily Telegraph, 29th November: “A buyer carries bundles of mistletoe away after the first Christmas holly and mistletoe auction of the season in Tenbury Wells, Worcs, an event 160 years old”

December 1st, National Mistletoe Day!  And interest in mistletoe is building rapidly (as usual!). The first of the Tenbury Wells Mistletoe Auctions was held last Tuesday and was, I’m told (sorry I wasn’t there guys, missed the craic, hope to be there next week), much the same as normal. Lots and lots of mistletoe lots, and the ever-present media interest.  The Daily Telegraph published a photo (see right) the next day but I’m not sure who else ran features.  Some may be waiting until nearer Christmas.

Prices for this first auction seemed a bit low – “Mistletoe 1st Quality” fetching up to £2.50 per kg but an average of £1.25 and “Mistletoe 2nd Quality” only £0.75p per kg and averaging £0.25p.  For details on these and previous years visit the mistletoe and holly page of Nick Champion’s website at http://nickchampion.co.uk/auctions/holly-and-mistletoe/

Those are wholesale prices of course – don’t confuse them with what you’d pay in the florist, greengrocer or supermarket – by the time mistletoe gets there much has been discarded and it has been handled, washed and cut numerous times (and therefore much more costly!).  But if you’re a supplier these prices are a little worrying – they’d hardly pay for your fuel getting the mistletoe to the auction.  I prefer to think of the mistletoe sales as a way to subsidise mistletoe management rather than a way to make mega-profit!

From The Guardian 29th November:
From The Guardian 29th November: “Mistletoe farmer Mark Adams harvests the Christmas crop from his family orchard in Worcestershire”

Meanwhile I’ve been busy all week with other mistletoe business, as indeed have others: I was the sole male at the 100-strong Wolverhampton Ladies Luncheon Club (est. 1932) on Wednesday where the table decorations were made with mistletoe supplied by mistletoe supplier Mark Adams.  Mark himself featured in a picture in the Guardian a few days ago (see left).

Tomorrow, Saturday 2nd, is Mistletoe Festival Day in Tenbury Wells, where there’ll be a mistletoe kissathon in the morning (details at http://www.tenburymistletoe.org/festival.html) and in keeping with the spirit of very ancient Christmas past, a Druid Mistletoe Ceremony in the afternoon.

The Druid Ceremony is organised by the Mistletoe Foundation and officially starts at 2pm at the Burgage recreation ground .  I won’t be there (sorry Suzanne!) as I’m busy talking about mistletoe elsewhere tomorrow, but I hope it goes well – it’s well worth attending if you can.  Just turn up at the Burgage at 2pm or, if you want to be part of the procession, volunteer for a part etc, be at the Rose & Crown (on the north side of the river just outside Tenbury) from 1pm.  Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/296475577498104/


Mistletoe Information: for general mistletoe info visit the Mistletoe Pages website.

And for mistletoe books, cards or kits to grow your own druidic berries visit the English Mistletoe Shop website:

‘Training’ mistletoe, and thoughts on Churchyards

A day out in London last week, at a conference discussing churchyard trees. Not about mistletoe.  But a surprising number of mistletoe angles…

windsor1
A rather blurred picture of some rail-side mistletoe

Starting with the journey there – as I caught the train in from Windsor (the conference was at Waterloo, an easy commute from Windsor) and Windsor is a mistletoe hotspot.  Regular readers will, obviously(!), know this already as I mentioned it last year when reporting on a drive up the Thames valley.

But this was my first time on the railway from Windsor Riverside to Waterloo, and I was keen to find out what mistletoe could be spotted by train.  ‘Training’ plants is a popular pastime with a few (somewhat dedicated) botanists; basically checking on what species you can spot by looking out of the window. It’s more interesting than it sounds, as railway corridors support a variety of species, with some unusual ones in the well-drained habitat amongst the gravel ballast next to the track.  The challenge is to identify them whilst passing at speed…

windsor2
Nice pic, but just missed the mistletoe! (off to the left somewhere)

But on this journey I was looking at the wider landscape, trying to spot mistletoe in the riverside trees (the line runs close to the Thames for much of the first section).  Sure enough there were several sections with significant mistletoe colonies – and I, foolishly perhaps, decided to try recording them using a phone camera. Of course, by the time I had spotted a colony and got the phone pointing at it, we had moved on several hundred metres…  And on the way back again in the evening it was dark.

Meanwhile, at the conference, churchyard trees and the challenges of managing them, were discussed at length.  Presentations were made by a mixture of tree experts and clergy, with a general underlying theme that more could and should be done to manage, conserve and plant more churchyard trees, with a particular emphasis on seeing them as part of the individual church’s history.  Indeed, in the case of many of our churchyard yew trees, the argument could be seen as the opposite; many of our older churchyard yews clearly pre-date their particular church’s foundation (some are 2000 years-old), so it is how the church relates to the tree, not the other way round.

church1
Typical churchyard mistletoe – growing on a lime tree in an open situation.

Where does mistletoe fit in to this? Two ways – firstly as another, like yew, evergreen with a long history in tradition and religion, so it has relevance at least.  Secondly, mistletoe loves churchyard trees – they are a perfect habitat, being well-spaced. The mix of native and exotic species often ensures at least one suitable host.

So was mistletoe mentioned? Er, no. Not at all!  Apart from by me in conversations over coffee and lunch.  But those discussions were useful, I think, highlighting the value of churchyard tree for mistletoe and the potential for mistletoe to be deliberately planted as part of a tree management project.  It always becomes a talking point, particularly outside its main geographical area.  Good for biodiversity too.  And, last but not least, it has religious relevance.

Not necessarily the right religion – but that’s why it’s a talking point…

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growkitmontage1Mistletoe season looms… and if you want to grow your own talking point have a look at the Mistletoe Grow-Kits from the English Mistletoe Shop.

More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

 

Mistletoe Season looms…

kissmenowToo early for mistletoe? Maybe.

But it’s never off the agenda here at Mistletoe Matters, and we’re already fielding all sorts of enquiries from the press, public etc. So here are a few updates, as they seem to be needed:

– It’s too early to say how good a year it is for mistletoe – there are quite a lot of berries, but they are still unripe and it is impossible to say how big they’ll get or exactly when they’ll turn white this season. There’ll be more info in a few weeks time.

– Mistletoe Auctions in Tenbury will again be at Burford House Garden Stores.  Dates are Tuesday 29th November, Tuesday 6th December and Tuesday 13th December. Further info, including links to buyers and sellers registration documents, are available from Nick Champion.

– Mistletoe websites- all our websites are due some updating – more on that when it’s done!  All are available via www.mistletoe.org.uk

– Druid mistletoe events this season include the public event at Tenbury Wells, which will be at 3pm on Saturday 3rd December at the Burgage. More details later. Though it’s worth noting that you can follow that up with an evening with Damh the Bard at the Fountain Inn, Tenbury. Tickets for Damh are available here.

druidbeer – Tenbury Mistletoe Festival – I’m no longer involved so don’t know what’s planned but you will find info on their website soon (currently still showing 2015 details)

– Mistletoe Surveys – all ongoing, particularly the management surveys. Details of those are on our survey website.

– Mistletoe Matters consultancy is open for advice, talks, media assistance etc – details of that here.

– And last but not least the English Mistletoe Shop (not be confused with similarly-named traders!) is open for grow-kit and book orders – details of all on the shop website.

That’s all for now…  more soon!

 

More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

All Mistletoe’s Eve?

2015_unripe
Unripe mistletoe berries. These are on the shady side of the host tree. Those on the sunny side are already whitening up for winter…

All Hallows’ Eve, and the mistletoe is ripening… Not that it’s got anything to do with Halloween of course, other than being a mysterious plant, a symbol of pagan tradition and a portent of the dark winter months. Which is, I s‘pose, quite a lot.

But with November dawning tomorrow we’ll soon be right back into mistletoe season. So I think it’s fair to say this is Mistletoe’s Eve too.

Actually, mistletoe season never quite goes away for us mistletoe-enthusiasts – I’ve been mistletoe-spotting and plotting all summer…

There’ll be more about all that (the spotting and plotting) later in the season. For now, a brief summary of some of the mistletoe things happening this winter, in no particular order:

Mistletoe Auctions
The Tenbury Wells Mistletoe Auctions are on three Tuesday mornings as usual – this year’s dates being 24th November, 1st December and 8th December. They’ll be at Burford House Garden Store again, like last year. For details of times, location etc visit Nick Champion’s website (Nick is the auctioneer).

The auctions are commercial wholesale events, but open to all and well worth a visit as you’ll see more mistletoe in one place then you’ve ever seen before, but on the ground, not on a tree (which does mean, sadly, that it has lost its magic power – according to Druid legend mistletoe must never touch the ground – ancient druids (see below) would catch cut mistletoe as it fell, in a white sheet…)

Mistletoe Training
There will be some mistletoe management training from Mistletoe Matters this season – some for private groups, some open to all – details will be available later in the season.

Mistletoe Druid Events
I am aware of plans for two druid mistletoe ceremonies so far – more may be announced later. Some are private events, others are open to all. One of the public events will be at Tenbury Wells on Saturday 28th November at 3pm.

Mistletoe Festival
And talking of Tenbury events, there is the Mistletoe Festival – whose main events take place on Saturday 5th December. I’m no longer directly involved in the Festival, so can’t give much of an insight in what’s going on – you’ll find details at http://www.tenburymistletoe.org/festival_day.html

Mistletoe Surveys
This season sees the re-launch (delayed from last year) of the various Mistletoe League surveys, gathering information on mistletoe management in orchards and gardens and on mistletoe susceptibility varies between fruit tree varieties. More about these later in the season – for now I’ll just point out they have a new website – at surveys.mistletoe.org.uk

Mistletoe Websites
And talking of new websites, as well as the new surveys website there is now a new website for Mistletoe Matters, where I put most of my mistletoe advice. I’ll post some info about that soon too.

Not forgetting, of course, the ongoing Mistletoe Pages website, which has loads of general mistletoe information.

Mistletoe Sales Websites
Last but not least there are the online mistletoe trading websites – including my English Mistletoe Shop – the main site here, or the dedicated Grow-Kit site here. We (English Mistletoe Shop) are not selling mistletoe online this season – but I’ll post a review of those sites that are (including those with confusingly similar names to us) in November.

And, er, that’s it for now. There’ll be more Mistletoe Diary blogging soon – I’ve been saving lots of stuff up for November/December….