MISTLETOE –Viscum Album, Viscum Articulatum, Viscum Coloratum, Taxillus Parasiticus, Loranthus Amplexifolius, Viscum Capense, Phoradendron Leucarpum, etc.
Also known as: Bian Zhi Hu Ji Sheng, Mulberry Mistletoe, Birdlime Mistletoe, Golden Bough, All Heal, Devil’s Fugue, American Mistletoe, European Mistletoe, etc.
Parts used: bark, leaves, twigs
Systems/organs affected: immune, female reproductive, nervous, cardiac
Properties: antiviral, anticarcingogenic, nervine, antispasmodic, diuretic, emmenogogue, tonic, emetic, narcotic, sedative, anodyne, emollient
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that derives all of its nutrients from the live trees it is found growing upon. It has symmetrically branched stems with narrow yellowish green leaves that grow in pairs. In the spring small yellow flowers appear followed by globe shaped, sticky, white berries that can get up to ½ inch across. Mistletoe hails from a few different families-Loranthaceae and Viscaceae. There are about 900-1000 species of mistletoe found all over the world but the European variety (viscum album) is the most used and preferred for medicine. Mistletoe is most commonly found on maple, ash, apple, hawthorn, oak and other fruit bearing trees.
This plant has quite an interesting history steeped in several cultures. The first mention of it would be with the Druids actually. Records of Posidonius the Apamean, a Greek mathematician, speak of them interacting with the Romans. Pliny the Elder describes some Druid rituals in ‘Natural History’- a work he penned in 77 AD. In it he tells of how the Druids would gather mistletoe from oak trees (they considered oak to be the most sacred tree). They believed that mistletoe was given to them by God because it grew upon their most holy tree. White robed priests would climb the oak trees and harvest the mistletoe with golden sickles and catch it in white cloth so that it would never touch the earth. It was thought that if it touched the soil that all of its magical healing properties would be lost. Two white bulls were also sacrificed during the ‘sixth day of the moon ’ or the time of fertility. The mistletoe was then given to animals that had problems conceiving to increase their fertility. The Druids were not the only people to use it for reproductive issues. The Chinese used it to stop uterine bleeding as a topical agent , to ease fetal restlessness and to treat threatened abortions. It was also used in South Africa to ease painful menstruation, irregular and excessive menses and endometriosis. The Cherokee Indians used it as an abortifacient. A paper was published in ‘Fertility and Sterility ‘ in 2002 that spoke of using injections of mistletoe extract to decrease the pain associated with endometriosis with measurable success. (With so many women suffering with this condition today this should be looked into as an alternative option by the medical establishment..)
Mistletoes was also used by the Druids to ward off evil spirits and to celebrate winter solstice. The idea of kissing under mistletoes actually came from the Scandanavians who believed that the Norse God of Peace known as Balder, was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. The arrow was given to the Goddess of Love who restored his life and decreed that mistletoe should henceforth be known as a plant of love and that those who passed under it should receive a kiss. The tradition has carried through the centuries.
Mistletoe has a number of applications that few know about. There have been a number of studies conducted on this plant due to its past use by the Druids and also by the Greek and Roman cultures as well as the Asians. Mistletoe contains lectins-at least three kinds that they know of at this time. It is believed that these lectins are partially responsible for its success in herbal remedies. The University Hospital of Hamburg found that mistletoe had a strong effect on the immune system. They were able to obtain the DNA sequence of one of the lectins and create a recombinant lectin that would mimic the effects of natural mistletoe. They thought this would make it easier to produce vaccines for injection but the synthetic lectins proved to be too toxic and were never used. (You all know how I feel about the medical industry stealing components from plants to make synthesized versions that don’t work near as well as the natural plant form.) The natural lectins in mistletoe were found to increase the natural killer cells in the blood (T cells). One case study on a patient with adenocarcinoma of the pancreas was given injections of a commercial mistletoe extract over 5 weeks. It was made from mistletoe that had been grown on oak. After the third injection the patient had an increase in phagocytic cells around the carcinoma. (Meaning the cancer killing cells increased around the cancer itself). A few other similar studies had the same results and it was concluded that mistletoe has the ability to stimulate the body’s natural immune responses. This let the German E Commission to declare it as a non-specific immune system stimulator. This has led to its used by AIDS and HIV patients around the globe. Studies conducted on some of its lectins found that it does indeed have the ability to inhibit HIV replication. One study in particular found that it could inhibit HIV replication by as much as 68%.
In Korea, mistletoe is used to alleviate colds. In India it has been used for consumption and in Taiwan it is used for tuberculosis. In Indo-China it is used to treat fevers in children. In Bulgaria it is mixed with other herbs for bronchitis and the flu. Perhaps the most interesting use of mistletoe though has been with cancer. One in vitro study was found to kill three different kinds of colon cancer cell lines, one of which was known to be resistant to a multitude of pharmaceutical drugs. These lectins within mistletoe were found to have an even higher activity against the resistant cancer than against the regular one which makes one think that perhaps mistletoe can tell which cancers are more aggressive and target them. Hmmmm. (‘Toxicology ‘ 2002; 171(2-3):187-199)
The Roman naturalist, Celsus, wrote ‘De Medicina ‘ and spoke of using mistletoe for growths and suppurations (pus producing tumors). Celsus described its use as an emollient and applied topically to soothe wounds and produce heat. (Cancer was referred to as an inflammation of black bile and considered a ‘cold-humor’ so it makes sense they would use heat producing agents to treat it). One such emollient was called the Composition of Apollophanes. It was actually a combination of ingredients that included mistletoe juice, frankincense soot, iris root, turpentine resin and more. It was used to soften hard areas. Similarly the emollient of Andreas was used to draw out the pus and soften the chest when hard and swollen. Celsus also mentioned that another emollient using mistletoes juice was found to be quite successful for scrofulous tumors (lymphatic). Dioscorides said that mistletoe could soften and draw out tumors and other lesions.
Modern studies confirm its use for cancer. In 1920, Rudolf Steiner, a well known German philosopher, made an extract of mistletoe called Iscador, for cancer. Today that extract is still sold under the same name and is used as a complementary therapy to be used with conventional treatments. In fact, mistletoe therapy is used by 60% of all cancer patients in Germany. (Obviously a nod to how well it works). There are several extracts of mistletoe now available in European countries (Eurixor, Vysorel, Helixor, etc). These extracts differ in how they are made, the trees they are grown on and the time of year in which they are harvested so each have their strengths. (This is another reason why it is important to pay attention to harvesting details). Mistletoe extract was also found to be effective for cancer of the larynx and lungs. More studies should be conducted to see just how far its benefits go in regards to cancer in particular.
Mistletoe has also long been used for nervous system disorders. The Greek and Roman cultures used it for epilepsy. Pliny was one of the first to mention its use for that condition. In 1720, Sir John Colbatch actually used it for epilepsy but also for St. Vitus’ Dance (uncontrollable movements believed to be similar to Parkinson’s). Colbatch penned a paper entitled ‘A Dissertation Concerning Mistletoe: A Most Wonderful Specifick Remedy for the Cure of Convulsive Distempers ‘ in which he recounts using mistletoe for his patients suffering from those conditions. He experimented with several forms of the plant all with varied success, including healing a young boy of convulsive asthma and another of epileptic fits
Dr. Edward Sieveking also spoke of using it successfully for epilepsy and convulsions. A. Dawes, author of ‘Ellingwood’s Therapeutist’, stated that mistletoe was the best therapy for epilepsy as it could tone the nervous system at the same time it was easing the seizures. The South Africans still use it for asthma and epilepsy. It is also used to treat asthma in India. In Asia they use it for neuralgia, low back pain and weakness. Part of its ability to calm epilepsy is believed to be due to its ability to block GABA receptors. GABA is a neurotransmitter that can over-excite the nerves and has been implicated in some forms of epilepsy. (GABA is also a very good thing for people but in this case it isn’t).
Other uses of mistletoe have been for menopause, hypertension, diabetes, respiratory issues, arthritis, snoring, leucorrhea, gout, sciatica, dizziness, headaches, irritability, anxiety, loss of energy, as a sleep aid, a heart tonic and for typhoid fever.
The European variety is used most as American mistletoe is considered toxic and unsafe. Mistletoe berries should never be consumed as they are poisonous, nor should they be used in preparations of any kind. There is no doubt that mistletoe is an amazing plant with a lot of possibilities but it should be used with extreme caution by those that are familiar with its effects. DO NOT USE if pregnant or nursing (obviously because of it ability to contract the pelvic muscles), are scheduled for surgery or are on blood pressure, blood sugar, immune or epileptic medications as it may interfere with their use. Unfortunately the United States currently does not offer mistletoe therapy injections like other countries do so it is perhaps best utilized here in tincture and/or tea form. Always consult with a qualified physician before starting any herbal regimen or program.
As is customary for my posts I am including some links herein for your benefit. Enjoy and use wisely! Stay strong and healthy!