Harvesting Mistletoe and Selling Mistletoe Crafts

For those willing to brave the cold, here is an idea for making money during the Christmas season by harvesting mistletoe and selling mistletoe crafts.

| November/December 1974

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 following fashion:

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.

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