Imported mistletoe; not new and, probably, not a problem

“Buy British!” That slogan doesn’t have the same ring about it these days, when so many products are imported, but surely mistletoe is one of those few that we could, in theory, realistically aspire to buy locally. There are regular calls each year to make sure your mistletoe is British, backed up with the idea that this will sustain our native mistletoe industry. But is this at all realistic?

There is no labelling scheme – so, frankly, most florists/greengrocers won’t have a clue where their mistletoe came from. The only significant home-grown supply is from mistletoe-filled orchards in the SW midlands of England – and those orchards are on the decline. And, despite media-hype, we have relied on mistletoe imports from mainland Europe since at least the late 19th century.

A report from the Worcestershire Chronicle in December 1884 – note that despite being a Worcestershire paper it expresses no surprise that most mistletoe comes from France!!

Are those imports a problem? Not as far as I can tell. Up until the 1960s or so, when imports still came via traditional means, it was normal for the British media to report on the import figures – with tonnages of mistletoe imports reported as a ‘good thing’ and part of the Christmas seasonal events. Since the 1990s, when worries about home-grown mistletoe supplies began, the opposite line has been taken – with the media implying that imports are somehow bad, and a ‘new’ phenomenon.

A report in the Northern Echo in December 1895, worrying that French mistletoe control measures would reduce Christmas supplies in the UK
A report in the Northern Echo in December 1895, worrying that French mistletoe control measures would reduce Christmas supplies in the UK

Reports from the late 19th century describe ships with deckfuls of mistletoe coming over from France – there’s a Worcestershire example on the left. And when the French government passed a law obliging their orchard owners to control mistletoe there was understandable angst here in Britain (see the 1895 story on the right)

Press photos from the 1920s, 30s and 50s feature Normandy farmers cutting mistletoe for export to Britain. It was an accepted, and expected, part of the seasonal news.

The import trade continues, though it’s not so well reported these days, perhaps because there is so little regulation on cross-border trade now, particularly within the EU. This makes it much less obvious.

But should we be worried by it – do mistletoe imports threaten our home-grown mistletoe trade and harvest? I suspect there is no problem – indeed the recent trend to publicly despair of imports is probably ensuring the home-grown trade is doing better than ever, especially with the new UK-branded mail-order retailers set up on the internet (which are the only effort at a ‘Terroir‘ system we have for mistletoe).

The real problem is sustainability  – and that applies to both the home-grown and imported mistletoe. Most mistletoe, wherever it is harvested, comes from old-style traditional apple orchards and those are just as threatened in mainland Europe as they are in the UK!

Commercial break:

EMShopTry The English Mistletoe Shop for Grow-Kits, Grow-Kit Gift Cards, Books etc, and mistletoe of course.

Or go direct to Amazon to buy A little Book About Mistletoe – in paperback or Kindle formats