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Sophie J
2815.  Fri Dec 05, 2003 4:49 am Reply with quote

I don't remember having any mistletoe info in the last Christmas show. So just for fun... Mistletoe:

"Mistel" is an old Anglo-Saxon word for "dung," and "tan" is the word for "twig". Mistletoe (or mistletan) therefore means "dung-on-a-twig". This common name for the plant comes from the ancient belief that mistletoe grew from bird poo. A the time they thought that life could spring spontaneously from dung and it was observed in ancient times that mistletoe would often appear on a branch or twig where birds had left droppings.

And here's Pliny's idea for a great office Christmas party, Gaul-style:

"The Druids -- for thusly are their priests named - hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, as long as that tree be an oak.... Mistletoe is very rarely encountered; but when they do find some, they gather it, in a solemn ritual....

"After preparing for a sacrifice and a feast under the oak, they hail the mistletoe as a cure-all and bring two white bulls there, whose horns have never been bound before. A priest dressed in a white robe climbs the oak and with a golden sickle cuts the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then they sacrifice the victims, begging the god, who gave them the mistletoe as a gift, to make it propitious for them. They believe that a potion prepared from mistletoe will make sterile animals fertile, and that the plant is an antidote for any poison. Such is the supernatural power with which peoples often invest even the most trifling things." (Natural History, XVI, 249-251)

s: (and they obtained it from US Geopraphical Survey)

Last edited by Sophie J on Mon Dec 08, 2003 10:13 am; edited 1 time in total

2816.  Fri Dec 05, 2003 5:03 am Reply with quote

Pliny right on song as usual - isn't it the case that mistletoe will grow on lots of trees but not, in fact, oak?

2818.  Fri Dec 05, 2003 5:39 am Reply with quote

In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year’s Day: "Au gui l’An neuf" (Mistletoe for the New Year).

Gui is indeed French for 'mistletoe', or in nautical parlance, the 'boom' on a sailing boat.


Hence 'Hogmanay' (a corruption of "Au gui l'an neuf") is a French invention and a French word.


In Norman French the word is hoguinané , from Old French aguillanneuf meaning the ‘last day of the year’, and a gift given on it accompanied by the cry ‘aguillanneuf!’. It is possible that the word comes from aiguille à l’an neuf (‘pointer to the New Year’) though it has been suggested that the first part may derive from au gui (making it: ‘to the mistletoe at the New Year’).


Sophie J
2823.  Fri Dec 05, 2003 6:24 am Reply with quote

I'm still looking at the oak exception but mistletoe is, like some barnacles, a parasite. Actually it's only classed as a semi-parasite because while it takes up minerals and water from the tree it's living on, it makes its own food by photosynthesis. In fact, mistletoe and barnacles are beginning to look strangely similar: myths involving birds; parasitic; sexually confused.....

2825.  Fri Dec 05, 2003 7:36 am Reply with quote

And one of the things that happens to you when you're scuba diving is that you get grabbed by a mermaid and made to kiss her under the barnacles. If you're not careful, that is.

2828.  Fri Dec 05, 2003 7:53 am Reply with quote

Rudolph Steiner was nuts on mistletoe (aka Iscador) as a medical magic bullet.

Iscador is a derivative of Viscum album, a mistletoe plant that grows in many parts of the world. Medical mistletoe is the result of many years of painstaking effort to explain the suggestion made by Rudolf Steiner (1981-1925) that mistletoe could be rendered effective in the treatment of cancer. Steiner was a mystic and founder of Anthroposophy, considered by some to be an offshoot of Theosophy that came into being during the war years when communications to the German-language world were disrupted. The researchers who developed Iscador took their hints from the vision that Steiner had that mistletoe could be emancipated from both Cosmic and terrestrial forces

Molly Cule
2832.  Fri Dec 05, 2003 8:35 am Reply with quote

After love, the most popular subject amongst poets is flowers. The Rosaceae family are the most written about of all plants, the favourite member of the family is the rose, its siblings are blackthorn, hawthorn, strawberry, peach, cherry and pear.


2838.  Fri Dec 05, 2003 9:11 am Reply with quote

According to Norse mythology, Baldur the Beloved has a dream that he will die. In an effort to stop this dream coming true, his mother Freya asks all beings to swear that they will not harm her son. During a feast to celebrate this, all the gods throw things at Baldur to prove that nothing can harm him. However, the wicked Loki, Baldur's brother, disguises himself and asks his mother whether everything has truly sworn. Freya tells him that the mistletoe alone had not sworn, so Loki goes and picks some and gives it to the blind god Hödur to throw at Baldur. Loki guides Hödur's hand, and the mistletoe hits Baldur and fatally wounds him.

Sophie J
3142.  Thu Dec 11, 2003 12:25 pm Reply with quote

In the spirit of myth-busting, I have been trying to work out what the witches in Macbeth might really have put in their cauldron (given that all the scary names were actually names of plants). Some of the sources are a little faulty but here at least is the first section:

Fenny: habiting the fens – found somewhere swampy or boggy.

Snake: it could be any winding growing plant found in those areas or perhaps the Fritillary, whose nick-name is Snake’s-head in some parts and can be found in winter-flooded hay meadows.

Eye of Newt: A type of Day-lily. Alternatively, any flowers that look like they have little eyes: Aster, Daisy, Eyebright.

Toe of Frog: The buttercup, otherwise known as frogsfoot.

Wool of Bat: In botany, ‘wool’ is used to describe the dense, curling hairs that can be seen on the surface of certain plants and to that end Hoary mullein has been suggested. A lot of sources say wool of bat is holly but I can’t find a reliable justification for it.

Tongue of Dog: Hound’s-tongue, or ‘Cynoglossum officinale’. The leaves are long, quite grey and covered in a down, looking enough like a dog’s tongue to give it its name.

Adder’s Fork: Could well be Adder’s-tongue, a member of the fern family. It is very small (barely taller than spring grass) and pretty scarce; something that makes it exciting for herbalists to find. It has a rough, tongue-like spike pointing out of an oval leaf.

Blind Worm’s Sting: Bit of a lack of info on this one. Some have suggested nettles simply because few plants sting.

Lizard’s Leg: Anything that grows on/ creeps up walls where you might find a lizard sitting and sunning itself. Stonecrop and Ivy have both been suggested.

Howlet’s Wing: Could well be Sumach, a shrub with fronds that look a lot like the wing of an owl.

Thus a fraction of the famous speech might read:
Double double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a winding growing plant found in a swampy area,
In the cauldron boil and bake:
Some day-lily and a soupcon of buttercup,
Holly and Hound’s-tongue,
Adder’s-tongue and nettle,
Ivy leaf and some Sumach,
for a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

More to come….

3184.  Fri Dec 12, 2003 4:00 am Reply with quote

Hound's-tongue was used in ancient folk-medicine to treat dog-bites and sometimes put in the shoe as a charm to ward off dogs.

It has a very unusual smell that herbalists struggled to describe. Presumably keen to promote the plant's medical efficacy, they usually likened it to that of 'dog's urine'.

In fact it was not until the twentieth century, with the invention of the roasted peanut, that an accurate description became available.


3185.  Fri Dec 12, 2003 4:07 am Reply with quote

Adder's-tongue spearwort Ranunculus ophioglossiofolius has the honour of having Britain's smallest Nature Reserve dedicated to its conservation.

The sanctuary – at Badgeworth Pool in Gloucestershire – is just 300 yards square.


3186.  Fri Dec 12, 2003 4:19 am Reply with quote

The Greater celandine Chelidonium majus is a member of the Poppy family, but it doesn't look like one being small and bright yellow and buttercuppish.

Aristotle put about the idea that celandines were used by swallows to cure their young of bad eyesight. (Celandine is from chelidon, Greek for 'swallow').

Mediaeval herbals, including the famous John Gerard's Herball or General Historie of Plants (1597), accordingly recommended the use of its highly corrosive latex for human eye-disorders:

for it clenseth and consumeth away slimie things that cleaue about the ball of the eie

In fact what it did was give the patient a nasty case of severe conjunctivitis.

The plant is much better used as a wart-remover. Apparently – along with feverfew and comfrey – it is one of the three most effective British plants for achieving this.

(See Lesser celandine post 3162 on the buttercup thread)

3203.  Fri Dec 12, 2003 7:31 am Reply with quote

This page shows various photographs and images of different species of buttercups and points out that Ranunculus penicillatus subspecies pseudofluitans variety pseudofluitans in the River Erwell in Sussex is the variety shown in Millais' picture Ophelia.

There are also three poems by Wordsworth, one by A A Milne and one by William Barnes, and a rather nice flower calendar, which claims that:

While on the day of the Holy Cross,
The Crowfoot gilds the flowerie grasse.

So that's May 3rd you should be looking around for Ranunculus.

Sophie J
3262.  Mon Dec 15, 2003 5:28 am Reply with quote

According to Cunningham's Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs (CEMH), Holly is Bat's Wing, not Bat's Wool. It was believed that if you threw Holly at wild animals they would lie down and leave you alone, without you even having to hit them with it.

Last edited by Sophie J on Mon Dec 15, 2003 11:07 am; edited 1 time in total

Sophie J
3275.  Mon Dec 15, 2003 10:50 am Reply with quote

Scale of Dragon: could well be Bistort, otherwise known as Dragon’s Wort, Easter Giant and Red Legs. If burned with frankincense it was thought to improve your psychic powers.
Bistort was also known as Snake-weed because of it’s contorted, twisty root and it was found in damp meadows and on river-banks, so could be the ‘fenny snake’ from earlier in the passage.

Tooth of Wolf: I can’t find a Wolfs tooth, but there is a ‘Wolf’s Claw’, which is a name given to Clubmoss. It was supposed to give power and protection from the Gods and according to my source you should “take a purification bath in a running stream, offer bread and wine to the plant, then uproot it with the little finger or a silver blade. Then it will be powerful.”
Another (less reliable) source says that the ergot fungus is sometimes known as Wolfszahn or Wolf-tooth. This was a fungus that grew on rye bread and is thought to be responsible for the number of werewolves in France between 1520 and 1630. During that time there were as many as 30,000 werewolf trials, most of the people tried being poor. Rye bread was staple food for the poor at that time but rye would, after a cold winter, develop the ergot fungus. This fungus is the main ingredient in what today is LSD – it is a powerful hallucinogen. On theory therefore is that the fungus on the rye bread eaten by the poor made them hallucinate, with a large number of people thinking they were werewolves and behaving accordingly.

s: EBR


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