Druids believed mistletoe growing on oak trees was the most sacred form of the plant and that it offered protection from all evil, as well as being the source of much magic. The early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe because of its association with Druids.
The mystery of the mistletoe's method of reproduction led many people to link the plant with spontaneous generation, fertility and aphrodisiacs. In medieval times, women wishing to conceive would wrap mistletoe around their waists and wrists to increase fertility.
Traditionally in Scandinavia, if enemies met under mistletoe they would lay down their weapons and not fight until the following day.
According to Scandinavian legend, the god Balder the Beautiful was killed by a spear of mistletoe and his grieving mother Frigg, the goddess of love and beauty, banished the plant to the top of trees. When Balder came back to life, Frigg made mistletoe a symbol of love.
In Brittany the plant is known as 'Herbe de la Croix' because it is thought that Christ's cross was made of mistletoe wood. An old Christian tradition said that mistletoe was once a tree and furnished the wood of the Cross. After the Crucifixion, the plant shriveled and became dwarfed to a parasitic vine.
According to a custom of Christmas cheer, any male and female who meet under a hanging of mistletoe are obliged to kiss. The custom is of Scandinavian origin. It was the plant of peace in Scandinavian antiquity. If enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms and maintained a truce until the next day. This ancient Scandinavian custom led to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.
Mistletoe bears fruit at the time of the Winter Solstice, the birth of the new year, and may have been used in solstitial rites in Druidic Britain as a symbol of immortality. In Celtic mythology and in druid rituals, it was considered a remedy for barrenness in animals and an antidote to poison, although the fruits of many mistletoes are actually poisonous if ingested as they contain viscotoxins.
In Romanian traditions, mistletoe (vâsc in Romanian) is considered a source of good fortune. The medical and the supposed magical properties of the plant are still used, especially in rural areas.
A popular myth says that the Mistletoe was cut with a gold sickle and it lost its power if it fell and touched the ground. This is a confusion with the Holly 'holy' Tree, the most sacred tree of the druids (after the Oak) due to both plants being green all year, having colorful fruits and sharing similar history of winter months. Getafix, the druid in the Asterix comics, was often seen up trees collecting Mistletoe, and it was alluded to be an ingredient in his magic potion.
Mistletoe has sometimes been nicknamed the vampire plant because it can probe beneath the tree bark to drain water and minerals, enabling it to survive during a drought. William Shakespeare gives it an unflattering reference in Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scene I: "Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe".
Mistletoe is commonly used as a Christmas decoration, though such use was rarely alluded to into the 18th century.Viscum album is used in Europe whereas Phoradendron serotinum is used in North America.
According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas; it may remain hanging through the year, often to preserve the house from lightning or fire, until it was replaced the following Christmas Eve. The tradition has spread throughout the English-speaking world but is largely unknown in the rest of Europe. The appearance and nature of the fruit's content (viscin) is very similar to or suggestive of human semen and this has strengthened its pagan connections.
Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens) is the state floral emblem for the state of Oklahoma. The state did not have an official flower, leaving the Mistletoe as the assumed state flower until the Oklahoma Rose was designated as such in 2004.