Why We Kiss Under the Mistletoe

If you’ve ever wondered why we kiss under the mistletoe and how the plant got that strange name, well, wonder no more.

The name for mistletoe derives the fact that mistletoe tends to spring from bird droppings that have fallen on trees, with the seeds having passed through the digestive tract of the birds. Thus, the plant was given the name “misteltan” in Old English from “mistel”, meaning “dung”, and “tan”, the plural of “ta”, meaning “twig”. Hence, “mistletoe” is another way to essentially say “dung twig”.

Not only is mistletoe a dung twig, but most varieties of this plant are partial parasites, being unable to sustain themselves on their own photosynthesis, so they leach what they need from the particular tree they are growing on. Some varieties of mistletoe, such as the North America Arceuthobium pussilum, are full parasites in that they get all their resources from the tree they are growing on and have no leaves.

So where did the tradition of kissing under a parasitic poop twig come from? The mistletoe has been considered a prized plant throughout history going all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, Celts, the Babylonians, and Scandinavians. For instance, the Ancient Greeks considered the plant an aphrodisiac; believed it aided in fertility; and could be used to achieve eternal life.

According to Ancient Babylonian legend, they had the closest thing to our current tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. At that time, single women looking for a mate supposedly would stand outside of the temple of the goddess of love. Mistletoe was hung over the entrance to the temple and when a potential suitor would approach one of the ladies, they were supposed to bond with him. They did not kiss, however, as kissing wasn’t a way to show affection at that time in the Babylonian empire.

As for a more direct root of our kissing tradition, Norseman had many traditions and legends concerning the mistletoe. One tradition was that mistletoe was a plant of peace and so that when enemies met under the mistletoe they were obliged to stop fighting for at least a day. Eventually, this spawned a tradition to hang mistletoe over the doorway of one’s home for peace and good luck.

Mistletoe became associated with Christmas from this tradition of hanging mistletoe in one’s home to bring good luck and peace to those within the house. The mistletoe would be hung around the New Year and the previous year’s mistletoe would be taken down, with its powers apparently tapped. The new plant would then provide this luck throughout the year.

By the 18th century in Britain, this evolved into the kissing tradition we have today. At this time, it became popular to create a ball of mistletoe that would be hung as a Christmas decoration. If a couple was found standing under the mistletoe, they were then obliged to kiss if the mistletoe ball still had berries. For each kiss, one berry would be taken from the ball. Once all the berries were gone, all the “luck” in love and marriage was considered to be drained out of the mistletoe and it was now considered bad luck to kiss beneath it, instead of good luck as before.

Science Confirms Plant-Based Protein is the Same as Protein From Meat

No matter what you eat, ensuring that you’re getting enough protein is one of the biggest concerns that many of us have. Not only is it essential for those looking to build muscle, protein is good for muscular health, overall. For a long time, animal-based products have been at the forefront of our obsession with protein. However, as more and more people eschew animal products in favor of plant-based foods, plant-based proteins, such as pea protein, have been on the rise. As we start to see more plant-based proteins making their way into stores, naturally, many of us are asking which type of protein is the best. Well, one group of researchers had the same question — so they got answers.

A recent study published in this month’s issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that if muscle-building protein is what you seek, plant protein is just as good as animal protein. Researchers in this study analyzed the dietary protein intake of a sample of nearly 3,000 men and women, ages 19 to 72, as well as the sources that the protein came from such as dairy, meat, fish, poultry, fast food, and legumes. Then, they analyzed the participants’ lean muscle mass, bone-mineral density, and quadriceps strength. The results revealed that those who consumed low amounts of protein had the lowest measures of muscle mass and strength while those who ate a high protein diet had better muscular health. In both instances, researchers found that there were no significant differences in musculoskeletal health in relation to the type of protein participants consumed. However, the amount of protein consumed by participants did not seem to have a significant effect on bone-mineral density.

According to the study’s lead author, Kelsey Mangano, PhD, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, “as long as a person is exceeding the recommended daily allowance for protein, no matter the source in their diet, they can improve their muscle health.” But, Mangano also advises other factors that should be taken into account when choosing a protein source: “Choose protein sources that are lean—limiting saturated fat—and also those that are low in sodium.” What’s lean, free from saturated fat and sodium, and high in protein? Legumes!

Not only can plant-based protein go head-to-head with animal proteins, choosing plant-based proteins might be the better choice overall. A 2016 study conducted by the University of Copenhagen revealed that those who consumed meals made from legumes felt fuller for a longer period of time. Not only that, participants in the study who consumed a legume-based meal rather than a meat-based meal were shown to consume 12 to 13 percent fewer calories during the next meal. So, go ahead and give that pea protein a try.

Science Says That These Are The Best Houseplants To Improve Indoor Air Quality

If you’re looking to improve the quality of air in your home, potted plants are a good place to start. But not all indoor plants are created equal.

A new study has found that certain varieties actually do more than pump more oxygen into your surroundings – they can also clear the air of harmful chemicals.

The new study, conducted by researchers from the State University of New York, looked specifically for plants that had the ability to absorb volatile organic compounds or VOCs, which are potentially harmful pollutants that can come from paint, furniture, printers, dry-cleaned clothes, and other household products.

“Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them,” said study leader Vadoud Niri.

A high concentration of VOCs can lead to health problems such as dizziness, asthma, or allergies, but get the right plant on your desk or kitchen sideboard, and you could save yourself the trouble of installing extra ventilation.

While there’s nothing new about the practice of using plants to clean air (technically known as biofiltration, or phytoremediation) Niri and his team conducted precise experiments to determine the efficiency and capabilities of five different types of houseplants – the jade plant, spider plant, bromeliad, dracaena, and Caribbean tree cactus.

Each plant was placed in an air-tight chamber with specific concentrations of several types of VOCs. By measuring the air quality over time, the researchers were able to see which did the best job of purifying the air.

The bromeliad plant got a gold star from the team, managing to clean up 80 percent of the pollutants in six of the eight VOCs tested. Others scored highly for certain pollutants: the dracaena absorbed 94 percent of the chemical acetone, used in nail polish remover.

Spider plants, meanwhile, were very fast at removing VOCs, starting work just a few minutes after being placed inside its container.

Niri was prompted to start his research after going into a nail salon and being put off by the smell, Sarah Kaplan reports for The Washington Post. Now, he wants to test his plants in a real salon setting to see how effective they can be at dealing with VOCs when they’re not in sealed containers.

It’s important to note the new study hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed or published at this stage, because the team is still refining their experiment. This means we can’t read too much into the study until it’s been independently verified, so don’t go putting bromeliads in every square foot of your home based solely on these results just yet.

Another thing to note is that the extent of the links between VOCs and health problems have been debated in the past, but the evidence suggests there is at least some relationship between the air we breathe indoors and a number of particular medical issues.

What is certain is that VOC concentrations can be much higher indoors than outdoors.

Niri says houseplants could be a natural and effective way of keeping our air clean, and really, what have you got to lose by making your house look a bit more green?

“Each of us breathes over 3,000 gallons of air each day,” he told the Post. “That’s why air quality is extremely important and air pollution is an important environmental threat to human health.”

The results of the study were presented at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Philadelphia.

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This Florida Tree is So Toxic, You Can’t Even Stand Under It When It Rains

In 1999, radiologist Nicola Strickland went on a holiday to the Caribbean island of Tobago, a tropical paradise complete with idyllic, deserted beaches. On her first morning there, she went foraging for shells and corals in the white sand, when the holiday quickly took a turn for the worse.

Scattered amongst the coconuts and mangoes on the beach, Strickland and her friend found some sweet-smelling green fruit that looked much like small crabapples. Both foolishly decided to take a bite, and within moments the pleasant, sweet taste was overwhelmed by a peppery, burning feeling and an excruciating tightness in the throat that gradually got so bad they could barely swallow.

The fruit in question belonged to the manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella), sometimes referred to as ‘beach apple’ or ‘poison guava’. It’s native to the tropical parts of southern North America, as well as Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of northern South America.

The plant bears another name in Spanish, arbol de la muerte, which literally means “tree of death”. According to the Guinness World Records, the manchineel tree is in fact the most dangerous tree in the world. As explained by the Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, all parts of manchineel are extremely poisonous, and “interaction with and ingestion of any part of this tree may be lethal”.

Manchineel belongs to the large and diverse Euphorbia genus, which also contains the decorative Christmas poinsettia. The tree produces a thick, milky sap, which oozes out of everything – the bark, the leaves and even the fruit – and can cause severe, burn-like blisters if it comes into contact with the skin.

This sap contains a range of toxins, but it’s thought that the most serious reactions come from phorbol, an organic compound that belongs to the diterpene family of esters. Because phorbol is highly water-soluble, you don’t even want to be standing under a manchineel when it’s raining – the raindrops carrying the diluted sap can still severely burn your skin.

Because of these horrifying properties, in some parts of the tree’s natural range they are painted with a red cross, a red ring of paint, or even paired with explicit warning signs. We could just remove them, but they play a valuable role in the local ecosystems – as a large shrub, the manchineel grows into dense thickets that provide excellent windbreaking and a protection against coastal erosion on Central American beaches.

There have been reports of severe cases of eye inflammation and even temporary blindness causes by the smoke of burning manchineel wood – not to mention the effects of inhaling the stuff. However, Caribbean carpenters have been using manchineel wood in furniture for centuries – after carefully cutting it and drying in the sun to neutralise the poisonous sap.

“The real death threat comes from eating its small round fruit,” Ella Davies writes for the BBC. “Ingesting the fruit can prove fatal when severe vomiting and diarrhoea dehydrate the body to the point of no return.”

Fortunately, Strickland and her friend lived to tell the tale, because they only ate a tiny amount of death apple. In 2000, Strickland published a letter in The British Medical Journal, describing her symptoms in detail.

It took over 8 hours for their pain to slowly subside, as they carefully sipped pina coladas and milk. The toxin went on to drain into the lymph nodes on their necks, providing further agony. “Recounting our experience to the locals elicited frank horror and incredulity, such was the fruit’s poisonous reputation,” Strickland wrote. “We found our experience frightening.”

9 Honeybee-Friendly Plants

Avid gardeners take note: It’s never too late to get out your shovel and start planting flowers to help bolster the honeybee population, which is in danger of extinction. Widespread colony collapse disorder is due to environmental stress stemming from overuse of pesticides as well as parasitic attacks, according to experts. This affects not just the honeybees but also our food supply.

“Over 75 percent of the foods we eat require pollination,” says Miriam Goldberger, author of “Taming Wildflowers: Bringing the Beauty and Splendor of Nature’s Blooms into Your Own Backyard,” and owner of Wildflower Farm, the largest (and oldest) wildflower seed company in Canada. “The most effective pollinators of food crops are European honeybees and North American native bees.”

Just think: By adding (floral) inventory to your landscape, you’ll also attract pollinators year-round because more than 75 kinds of wildflowers provide pollen for bees. “The best thing is to plant annuals that bloom all season,” suggests Polly Hutchinson, an organic flower farmer at Robin Hollow Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island. “That gives bees way more to feed on and it’s a great way to support the population you have on your property.” So, why not roll up your sleeves and read on, as we share the top plants you should consider planting — and you can do it this weekend.

1. Asters

asters

These blue, pink and purple flowers are ideal additions to your garden since they bloom in late-summer and stay in bloom into fall, making them a welcome option for honeybees to feed on when other flowers in your garden are no longer in bloom.

2. Black-eyed Susans

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With stalks that grow to three feet and beyond, these yellow flowers that boast a brown-purple center are a honeybee fave. Best of all, they are long-lived perennials native to North America, so there’s no need to replant.

3. Dandelions

dandy

Technically a weed, this yellow sprout is beloved by bees. “Let them be,” Hutchinson advises. “Yes, dandelions are weeds, but they’re also great for bees and their roots go way down, which ultimately puts nutrients from lower down in the ground up to help feed your grass. They’re a win-win plant!”

4. Lemon balm

lemon

This perennial herb that’s part of the mint family, a.k.a. Melissa officinalis, is a perfect bee-attracting addition to any partly shady garden. It also has a long history. In ancient Greek times, this herb was planted near their bee hives to help keep the honeybees well-fed from the plant’s nectar-rich flowers and to help prevent their bees from swarming, says Aaron von Frank, an expert organic gardener and co-founder of GrowJourney, a USDA-certified organic Seeds of the Month Club. “We grow it in our garden and our neighbor’s honeybees cover the flowers throughout the blooming cycle,” he says. “Lemon balm makes a delicious tea, too.”

5. Purple coneflower

cone

Otherwise known as echinacea, this resplendent daisy-like flower is a honeybee magnet and provides both pollen and nectar to foraging bees.

6. Snapdragons

snap

During the day when bees are looking for nourishment, snapdragons release four times more scent, which draws honeybees to them. Adding to the allure: The bees then carry the aroma of the snapdragon back to the hive. This attracts even more bees to the flowerbeds.

7. Sunflowers

sun

A hardy annual that’s tall and grows into strong stalks, sunflowers are a honeybee must-plant. Opt for yellow or orange sunflowers instead of red ones, since bees can’t detect the color red when they seek out places to feed.

8. Yarrow

yarrow

A perennial, these bright flattened buds that come with a signature fernlike leaf are favorite spots for bees to collect nectar. They’re also ideal for cutting and drying once the season is over.

9. Zinnias

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These easy-to-grow flowers stay in bloom for most of the season and are colorful, too. “Anything that has a lot of small flowers on the flower is great for bees,” Hutchinson says. “You want to seek out flowers that can provide more pollen, which ultimately provides that much more food for the bees.”