Mistletoe is actually the general name for obligate hemi-parasitic herb belonging to the Loranthaceae family of genus Santalales. While several species of this plant are found in places like North America, Asia, Europe, Australia and Korean, the most common species is known as American Mistletoe (botanical name, Phoradendron Leucarpun) and the European Mistletoe (botanical name, Viscum album). As mistletoe is a parasitic plant, it generally grows on other trees/ plants, for instance, apple trees, pines, firs, in addition to oaks and produces yellowish green leaves, flowers and extremely waxy berries.
While the berries of the American mistletoe as well as European mistletoe have been regarded as a toxic substance for long, the leaves of the herb when taken as a tea are known to have a significant standing as a home remedy. In fact, these two plants - American mistletoe and European mistletoe - not only differ in their names, but also in known usage. In effect, it is believed that the American mistletoe invigorates the smooth muscles resulting in a rise in blood pressure and enhances tightening of uterine as well as intestine. On the other hand, the European mistletoe just works in an opposite manner and reduces blood pressure as well as functions as a calmative and anti-spasmodic agent.
In effect, both American mistletoe as well as European mistletoe enclose toxic proteins, which are very identical in their chemical structure. These are selected phoratoxin, which when separated from Phoradendron species as well as viscotoxins are obtained from a variety of Viscum album. Different from the traditional reputation, these two species of mistletoe enclose them. In effect, phoratoxin and the viscotoxins resulted in the same effects when they were injected into animals during trials. The effects caused by these species of mistletoe in the animals included slowing as well as weakening of the heartbeat, hypotension as well as narrowing of the blood vessels in the skeletal muscles as well as the skin. Nevertheless, it is important to note that scientists/ researchers are yet to study the effects caused in humans following the oral use of the herb.
In Germany, occasionally extracts obtained from European mistletoe are used to treat malignant tumors. A sterilized solution, which is commercially available, is administered as an intravenous injection or injected directly into the tumor offering pain-killing treatment for specific cancer types. However, authorities in the United States are yet to approve the use of this medication. In effect, this type of use of mistletoe has led scientists to identify three lectins in the plant. It may be noted that lectins are actually proteins that make the red blood cells (RBC) clump (agglutinate). Several plant lectins are known to be extremely cytotoxic (a substance that has noxious influence on specific cells) and currently, scientists have undertaken studies to find their probable usefulness in cancer chemotherapy.
In effect, extracts of a number of species on which the parasitic mistletoe grows in Australia have shown to enclose two toxic substances - glycosides and alkaloids. Hence, mistletoes that grow on Duboisia species enclose toxic solanaceous alkaloids, while those growing on oleander enclose very strong cardiac glycosides. Therefore, the identification of the plants that host the parasitic mistletoe is of utmost importance provided the raw plant material is used in the form of a medication.
Several well-known and accepted writers on herb advise taking mistletoe tea in the form of a remedy for a number of medical conditions varying from nervousness to cancer. On the other hand, as coffee is an expensive beverage, several people have even advised taking mistletoe tea as a pleasing substitute. It may be noted that the latest surveys of toxic plants in the United States keep on highlighting the poisonous nature of the berries borne by American mistletoe. On the other hand, sources in Germany now claim that the berries of European mistletoe and not the leaves are only somewhat toxic in nature, if there is any toxicity at all.
Over several hundred years, herbalists all over Europe have been depending on the tea or tincture prepared with the berries of mistletoe to cure a number of symptoms related to high blood pressure, such as headaches, wooziness, tetchiness, loss of vitality and others. Therefore, one ancient remedy has emerged from the grave which can be used for an extremely acute medical condition.
In Europe, herbalists have a few dissimilar methods of employing mistletoe in the form of a heart sedative as well as an antihypertensive (any substance that helps to lower high blood pressure). One of these methods is to take equivalent portions - approximately two tablespoonful of each - of mistletoe and hawthorn berries, and leaves of lemon balm and subsequently soak them in two pints of steaming water for about 25 minutes. Half a cup (125 ml) of this tea is taken twice daily - once in the morning and again in the evening. The other method is to steep four teaspoonful of finely sliced mistletoe in 1 pint to 1 1/4 pints of cold water for the night and drink one cup (250 ml) of the beverage as the first thing you do in the following morning.
Leaves, branches, berries.
Chemical analysis of mistletoe has revealed that this parasitic herb possesses calming, anti-spasmodic, purgative, immuno-modulator, immuno-stimulator, a potent hypotensive (causing low blood pressure), an excellent cardio-tonic, diuretic and vermifuge (any medication that helps to expel worms from the body) properties. Due to its multifarious therapeutic attributes, mistletoe is prescribed to cure cough, particularly spasmodic cough, asthmatic attacks attributed to psychological tension as well as bronchial asthma. Simultaneously, this herb is also used to alleviate the symptoms of epilepsy, hysteria, dizziness, nervous fits, neurosis, cardiac ischemia, arterial hypertension, hiccups, predispositions to virosis (a viral infection), digestive as well as uterine cramps, memory problems related to hypertension (high blood pressure), ganglionary ailments as well as immunity disorders owing to old age. The herb is also applied topically to treat gout, leucorrhoea (a white or yellowish vaginal discharge) and sciatica (pain in some portions of the sciatic nerve).
The Druids and ancient Greeks were the first to use European mistletoe for the reported health benefits offered by the herb. These people employed European mistletoe in the form of a ‘cure all' to treat almost all types of medical conditions. In effect, since long, mistletoe has been extensively employed in the form of an herbal therapy for an assortment of health disorders, counting alleviating headaches, pains caused by arthritis as well as the menopausal symptoms.
Primarily, European mistletoe is employed to reduce high blood pressure and slow down the rapid heart rate, alleviate nervousness and induce sleep. When used in small doses, mistletoe helps to provide relief from headaches, panic attacks and, at the same time, augments concentration. Herbalists especially prescribe European mistletoe to treat epilepsy and tinnitus (a ringing or similar sensation in the ear). The extracts obtained from mistletoe berries are administered in the form of injection to cure cancer in anthroposophical (a medical philosophy founded on Rudolf Steiner's teachings) medicine.
Mistletoe is a very effective remedy for women's problems. For instance, this herb is used to lessen the profuse menstruation flow, menstrual problems as well as hemorrhage following child birth. In addition, this herb can also be employed to treat persistent cramping, infertility as well as to cure uterine problems.
Before being a part of a sequence of signs of the winter holidays, in the olden times, mistletoe was regarded to be a religious symbol of the pagans. Mistletoe was considered to possess magical properties since it was effective in curing ailments, brought good luck, defended against witchcraft and was also believed to be a source for treating infertility. For instance, during the Middle Ages, people were of the belief that hanging branches of mistletoe from the ceiling protected their homes as well as the inhabitants from tainted spirits. There are numerous other instances of the magical attributes of mistletoe. Among these, one relates to the Vikings, who regarded this species to possess the power of getting the dead back to life. On the other hand, the Romans used mistletoe to make their marriages lawful by a famous kiss under the mistletoe tree.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
Mistletoe is indigenous to the northern regions of Asia and Europe. The species called European mistletoe (Viscum album) usually grows on trees that host them, particularly the apple trees. European mistletoe, one of the most common species of the genus, is harvested during autumn.
The effectiveness of European mistletoe in treating cancer has undergone considerable amount of research. There is little qualm regarding the fact that specific constituents of European mistletoe, particularly the viscotoxins, show anti-cancer activities, but scientists are yet to accept the worth of the entire plant for treating cancer.
Although mistletoe is sometimes used to treat cancer, the dosages of the herb mentioned below are all for non-cancerous conditions. This herb may be taken in various forms, including cold infusion, warm infusion, tincture, powder, dried herb and fluid extract.
If you are taking the herb parenterally (administering a medication into the body in a way other than the digestive tract), which is true for a specific product imported from Europe, it is essential to strictly follow the instructions of the manufacturer.
Side effects and cautions
Taking large doses of mistletoe may have a harmful action on the functioning of the heart. Even consumption of the berries of this parasitic herb may prove to be hazardous, particularly for children. Moreover, the mistletoe berries may also be toxic for your pets, particularly cats. People taking therapeutic preparations with mistletoe may experience adverse side effects like dehydration, mild to serious fever, diarrhea, seizures, delirium and even hallucinations. This herb or its preparations should never be used during pregnancy or be given to nursing mothers.