Vischio or Mistletoe

Vischio or Mistletoe

Holly and Butcher's Broom

Mistletoe - the plant with an influential Christmas reputation that has antique beliefs attached to it. It is a plant that is common in Europe and in North America and considered a symbol of love. It is the most legendary of plants. Some used to call the Mistletoe an "all heal" plant and thought there was no illness it could not cure. It is in fact poisonous, particularly the berries. European customs regarding the Mistletoe ( Its scientific name, viscum album) were passed down during immigration to North Americans. It is considered an amulet good luck charm, and sold everywhere as a Christmas token.

santa italy

Kissing Under the Mistletoe the first knowing of this concept have been associated with a Greek festival called "Saturnalia." (mistletoe was believed to be able to bestow the power of fertility) and the Greeks believed Mistletoe had mystical powers. In Europe they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches. Mistletoe was held in great reverence in Europe by the Druids. Dressed in white robes, Druids went in search of this sacred plant, one ascending the tree to gather it, separating it from the Oak with his golden knife. At the start of the a new year and at a particular age of the moon, the Mistletoe was cut. If by chance the Mistletoe fell to the ground, it was considered an omen and a great misfortune was to be expected. For the Druids the Mistletoe was a protector from all evil. Mistletoe was believed too, be a fertility enhancer and aphrodisiac, but go easy on it, because large quantities can be lethal!


This is the Mistletoe Etiquette: one of the male species picks a berry as he kisses a female underneath a thorny decorative plant with bright red berries. When he runs out of berries, well -  low and behold -  the kisses would end!

The Butcher's broom is a plant with sharp points like the Holly (Agrifoglio in Italian) (Ilex aquifolium - scientific name), which actually mimics the holly with its red berries and thorny leave tips -  but has berries which are more oblong in shape. The plant bares tiny greenish flowers. In Italy the Butcher's broom takes the place of Holly for Christmas decorations; since Holly has been illegal to pick, and is now a "protected plant."

The Holly was considered by the antique Romans who celebrated from the 17 - 23rd of December. During these celebrations they honored Saturn who was the god of agriculture. This celebration was the spitting image of our own Christmas. The Romans brought in branches of Holly. They believed too that if the Holly was planted near the house, it would ward off evil spirits.

red berries

Why the name "Butcher's Broom?" Because the branches were used to clean Butcher's Blocks in the butcher's shops in England. In Italy it is comically called Pungitopo (Its scientific name, Ruscus aculeatus)...or "Prick the Mouse." The pointy points would prick anyone who wasn’t watching what he/she was doing!

Pungitopo is the Italian name given to this plant, who's name probes an interesting story indeed. In the past they were used to save hanging meats, cheeses and salumi from being nibbled by mice, Italian farmers used to gather the Butcher's broom for its poker sharp ends, and use it to scare mice away! Bunches were tied as though bouquets, and several were placed around aging foods in their cellars and grottos. The sharp edges of the leaves were enough to prick any mouse's nose and make him scurry away! The young sprouts were eaten in the place of asparagus and Butcher's broom seeds were toasted and prepared to replace coffee.

It was also known among the ancient Romans. During Roman times leaves and berries were mashed and added into wine -  not only that -  they made a decoction by soaking the roots in wine too.

The Word 'Mistletoe' is of uncertain etymology; the English name is said to be derived from the Anglo - Saxon Misteltan, tan signifying twig, and mistel from mist, which in old Dutch meant birdlime; thus, Mistletoe means 'birdlime twig,' reference to the fact that the berries have been used for making birdlime. Mistletoe were excreted in bird droppings and stuck to twigs. A bird would grip the fruit in its bill, squeezing the sticky coated seed out to the side, and then wipe its bill clean on a branch; this explains why mistletoe sprouts in trees. Dense clumps would grow well in these trees, attaching themselves on tightly borrowing down into the trees bark. They make excellent clumps for birds to make their nests; species range from Spotted Owls to Painted Honey Eaters.


It is here in these clumps that we can imagine would be the beginnings of a parasitic plant life. The "Dwarf Mistletoe" belongs to the santalaceae family, and is a total parasite relying on its host for nutrients and photosynthesis. It grows on almost any deciduous tree, preferring those with soft bark, and perhaps being commonest on old Apple trees. Mistletoe is a true parasite, for at no period does it derive nourishment from the soil.

European Mistletoe bares robust and beautiful globular white berries that ripen in the winter and being an evergreen, has leaves that remain green throughout the colder months. The berries contains one or two seeds each. The plants flowers are tiny and yellow arranged in threes. If they are female -  October brings flower transformations -  as the flowers turn into round shiny berries, that remain luscious until March.

It wouldn't be surprising if there was some confusion between the various of the three plants -  they all have something to do with Christmas! The Mistletoe has a long track record for its mystical uses, and was introduced as a fertility enhancer by the Greeks, thus the kiss under the Mistletoe. The Butcher's broom and Holly are highly decorative with red berries and beautiful green leaves which were both used for Christmas celebrations like those given by the Romans.

By Jackelin J.Jarvis