Berries Can Be Dangerous
They’re pretty to look at, but don’t eat the berries from holiday mistletoe and holly decorations.
Whitish mistletoe berries have toxic substances that can produce gastric distress and drastically reduce blood pressure to the point of cardiovascular collapse, according to Will H. Blackwell, a botanist at Miami University.
And while holly leaves and berries are not seriously toxic, he says, berries of some species may contain irritants that cause digestive problems, including diarrhea, if consumed in quantity.
Blackwell, author of “Poisonous and Medicinal Plants” (Prentice Hall), says mistletoe should be considered potentially dangerous, especially if children are around.
According to plant historians, the tradition of kissing under a sprig of mistletoe probably comes from the old Scandinavian legend about Balder, the god of peace, who was killed by a mistletoe-poisoned arrow. Other gods and goddesses brought him back to life and decreed that everyone who passed under a sprig of mistletoe should receive a kiss to symbolize love, not hate.
And the use of holly at Christmas probably grew out of the Roman Saturnalia, a winter festival, Blackwell says. The Romans sent boughs of evergreens and other gifts to friends.