Among all the alternative business ideas I've seen in
MOTHER EARTH NEWS, no one has mentioned selling mistletoe crafts. Perhaps
that's because the plant—a traditional holiday
decoration—is plentiful only in a limited region.
("New Jersey, e. Pennsylvania, W. Virginia, s. Ohio, s.
Illinois, and s.e. Kansas to Florida and e. Texas,"
according to A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs by
George A. Petrides.—MOTHER EARTH NEWS.) Here in
Kentucky, though, the trees are full of it and the
white-berried sprigs sell like mad during a brief season
(the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve). I've made as
much as $50.00 just from one afternoon's picking at the
rate of 25¢ for a large spray, but to
really bring in money, you'd operate in the
First find a source of mistletoe by driving around in the
country until you spot an area where the parasitic plant is
dense. Mistletoe seems to prefer old oaks, but is also
found on black walnut and other trees. Its clusters of
thick yellow-green leaves stand out clearly among the
host's bare branches.
If you find mistletoe-bearing trees that overlook a public
road, well and good. If they're in someone's pasture, it's
best to ask permission before you gather (few will refuse)
and then to drop off a nice bunch as a "thank you" to the
owner. Since mistletoe is a parasite that slowly kills its
hosts, you're doing the trees a favor by removing the
infestation. On the other hand, it's practically impossible
to get rid of for good—it grows back and is thought
to be transmitted by birds—so you won't be upsetting
any natural balance.
Here in the South, the traditional method of harvesting
mistletoe out of high branches is to blast it down with a
shotgun. I don't recommend that, however, since you want
nice large sprigs with a lot of white berries. What you
need is someone—perhaps a teenaged son—who's
good at climbing trees.
Right after Thanksgiving—preferably on a sunny,
windless day—drive out to your mistletoe "patch"
with a climber and possibly a ladder. You also might want
to take along one of those long-handled tree trimmers,
which isn't necessary but which will let you reach the most
beautiful bunches that are always very high up or out on
limbs too thin to take a person's weight.
Since the object is to break off as few berries as possible
from the sprigs you collect, you might want some big
shoulder-strap bags like those used in cotton picking.
Climbing around in trees with a large sack is very clumsy,
though, and you may prefer to bring an old sheet and drop
the pieces into it. (Have two people hold the "net" clear
of the ground, leaving a bit of slack.) In the latter case,
you'll also need some boxes.
Don't spend more than two hours portal to portal on this
expedition. A nice outing can turn into a cold, exhausting
chore if you work too long. Anyhow, you don't want to pick
more than a couple of big boxfuls at a time. (Mistletoe
will hold up well if kept cool and damp. Sprinkle your
collection with water and cover it with moist newspapers or
rags, but don't let it get wet.)
Sort the day's take of mistletoe when you get home, to see
what size sprigs you have. You may want to discard some,
break up others into smaller sprays or even tie small bits
together to distribute the berries among the leaves. I find
that adding a decoration such as a red ribbon doesn't pay
off: It takes a lot of time and work, the ribbon costs
money, and people don't seem to buy more because of the
Next, you need an outlet (which you should actually have
lined up first of all) and your sales—of
course—can be wholesale, retail, or both.
Wholesale markets include florists, craft shops, and
boutiques (especially stores that are located near an
interstate highway and rely on the tourist trade). You can
also arrange to provide a large amount of mistletoe for the
high school Christmas dance, the firemen's ball, or the
Junior League and church parties. Check the newspaper for
announcements of large gatherings and weddings during the
Christmas season, and contact the people concerned about
using a load of your wares as decorations.
Actually, the list of possible wholesale outlets is
practically endless (it includes anyone who's doing
large-scale Christmas decorations that don't have to take a
beating over a long period of time). To capture this
market, however, requires real salesmanship and hustling on
your part, and the money to be made is only a fraction
of what you can realize from retail sales.
If you do go the wholesale route, however, you'll want to
know that I've charged $5.00 for a carton about like a beer
case, and the same amount of mistletoe might sell for
double that rate in the North. Remember that a shop which
intends to resell needs to make a profit, but groups,
schools and clubs that use the plant for decoration can pay
a little more.
To retail mistletoe profitably, you need to take your
harvest to a really large city. You must then decide
whether to dodge cops or go legit. The latter approach
requires a street vendor's license, which costs money and
may not be granted at all in some places. You can find out
at the city hall. With such a permit, you have one less
worry and can devote all your thinking to sales.
If you prefer, you can just set up on the street, keep an
eye out for the police, and move on at their appearance ... but you do risk a whopping fine or worse. Ever seen news
photos of an English spasm band running down the street
with tuba and bass drum, chased by an irate bobby? Or a
Mexican mariachi group, bass and guitarone flying,
with the policia in hot pursuit? It could happen
Retailing—legal or illegal—can be done in two
ways. You can pick a good corner in a busy downtown section
or shopping center, rig yourself an eye-catching get-up,
pin mistletoe all over your costume, put a sign on your
back, around your head or on a pole, and let the
customers come to you. Or you can dress very respectably,
go to the wealthy and middle-class residential sections and
ring doorbells. One other gimmick is to use younger
children, say 8 to 11 years old, to do the selling. No cop
is going to arrest a youngster that age, and people tend to
buy from them more easily.
Retailing requires little salesmanship other than the nerve
to approach people and ask them to buy your product.
Physically, though, it's very hard work—cold and
tough on the feet.
The retail price of mistletoe is an important consideration
which varies according to region. In the North it would be
possible to sell a bunch of two nice sprigs with berries
for $1.00, and single sprays at 50¢ would go like
wildfire. I'm sure one could make $100 a week in the
Christmas season on a part-time basis, putting in no more
than 20 hours of work altogether. An average church group
or club that worked the retail and wholesale angles full
time could clear $4,000 or $5,000 provided their
supply of mistletoe held out.
Traditionally, mistletoe is a bringer of good fortune
(hence the custom of greeting friends or stealing a kiss
under its branches). Whatever the plant's powers, it can at
least furnish you and your friends a little extra
prosperity during the holiday season ... with no magic
other than a bit of work.