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Foraging: Mistletoe

Foraging: Mistletoe

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“Here were kept up the old games of hoodmanblind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple, andsnap dragon; the Yule-clog and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe with its white berries hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.”
—Washington Irving

‘Tis the season to start puckering up—and if you’re an avid hiker or nature lover and you live in (or are planning to visit) the right place, you may want to think about collecting that holiday mistletoe yourself.

Mistletoe can be easy to spot in the late fall and early winter—the bright green leaves will stand out against any snow or wintery backdrop and against the leafless branches of deciduous trees. Mistletoe is technically a parasite, stealing nutrients from its host tree or shrub. But there are different types and you don't want just any type of mistletoe to grace your doorways, mantle or anywhere else you plan to hang it.

Some types of dwarf mistletoe don’t exactly render the green velvety leaves perfectly adorned with little white flowers that you see in every Christmas television special or movie, but you won’t notice those when you’re out looking anyway. If you live in or near heavily wooded areas in eastern North America, look for mistletoe on the branches of hardwood trees like oak, hickory and maple as well as conifers and other deciduous trees and shrubs.  Even in the southwest—from west Texas to northern California—you can find mistletoe growing not on oak but on cottonwood, ash, black locust, hackberry, maple, walnut, sycamore and willow.

The thing is, even though finding it is easy, harvesting it is an activity perfect for those up for a little challenge and adventure. If the mistletoe shrub is growing up high, you’ll have to get creative in your climbing or harvesting skills (think pruning pole). Then gather it all in plastic bags, take it home and let the arts and crafts begin.

It’s a good idea to check with your local Forest Service office or county extension agent before collecting mistletoe—they may have harvesting tips and be able to help locate mistletoe in your area. You can also visit the USDA Forest Service’s Mistletoe Center or reach them at (928) 556-2001. Keep in mind; some mistletoe varieties are poisonous if ingested, so keep it out of reach of children and pets.