Botanical: Viscum album
Family: Viscaceae/Loranthaceae (mistletoe)
Other common names: European Mistletoe, Viscum, Birdlime, All-heal, Devil's Fuge, Loranthus, Mulberry Mistletoe, Golden Baugh
"The Mistletoe hung in the castle hall,
The holly branch shone on the old oak wall..."
If all you want is a kiss, walk under a bough of Mistletoe, but if you are exhausted, irritable or suffering from headache or hypertension and need a relaxant, try Mistletoe for relief. Perhaps more importantly, there are very hopeful and exciting studies currently being conducted on Mistletoe in the area of immune therapy, which show promise in building defense against serious malignant disease.
The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
European Mistletoe (not to be confused with American Mistletoe, an entirely different plant that is seldom used medicinally) is a woody perennial that is native to Europe and Asia and continues to grow throughout Europe, as well as northwest Africa, parts of Asia and elsewhere. One of its most notable features is the white berries that ripen during the winter months. This European species of Mistletoe (Viscum album) can be found in the United States, because it was purposely imported in the early 1900s by horticulturist, Luther Burbank, to California as an ornamental from Eurasia. Mistletoe is an evergreen shrub with branches that may extend ten feet across with feathery leaves, yellow flowers and sticky white berries. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant and grows on young branches of deciduous host trees, such as firs, ash, apple, hawthorne and oak. As a true parasite, it assumes the varied nutrients acquired from the host plant; at no time does it receive its nourishment from the soil. The plant is propagated in seeds carried by birds and cannot be cultivated from the soil. One of the earliest writers to discuss the use of Mistletoe in medicine was the Roman naturalist Celsus (53 B.C.- 7 A.D.) in his work, De medicina, which is one part of a six-part encyclopediæ and considered a comprehensive look at medicine during ancient Roman times. Mistletoe has been used in herbal medicine since ancient times and was considered sacred to the Druids who went forth in white robes to collect it (particularly revering the oak-grown plant) and cutting it with great ceremony, using a golden sickle. Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar, described one of the Druids’ most important rituals in his Natural History, written in 77 A.D. Since oak was the most sacred of trees to the Druids, the Mistletoe that grew on this tree was the most sacred of plants because it was believed to have come directly from God. The mysterious Druids believed that Mistletoe protected its possessor from all evils, especially regarding Mistletoe from the oak trees to be superior and providing them with many wonderful cures, including remedies for sterility, epilepsy and as an antidote for poisons. It was believed that Mistletoe held magical powers from the "soul" of the mighty oak tree and would grant strength, peace, health and fertility to those who kissed beneath it. The Druids were not the only people to use Mistletoe for its fertility-enhancing properties: Across the world Mistletoe has been associated with the concept of fertility, perhaps because of its growth outside of the typical harvest season of other fruiting plants. There are many legends surrounding Mistletoe, and it became embedded in European rituals, folklore and folk medicine. European Mistletoe was an important herb associated with welcoming the New Year and was cut from the oak trees at a particular phase of the moon (using a golden sickle). "Kissing under the Mistletoe" originated in Scandinavian lore. Baldur, the god of peace and light, was killed by an arrow made of Mistletoe, then resurrected by other deities, and the plant was subsequently entrusted to the goddess of love, who established it as a symbol of love, with the custom that anyone passing beneath it should receive a kiss. It is a pungent, bittersweet, warming herb, and the stems and leaves are used in herbal medicine. Mistletoe has been used medicinally since ancient times, and Dioscorides and Galen both sang its praises for a variety of ailments, including an external remedy made from a glutinous extract. Hippocrates prescribed the herb internally for disorders of the spleen. Mistletoe was introduced as a cancer therapy in 1917, and was administered by injection. Today there is very exciting research being conducted in the area of immune therapy, and there are currently patent medicines used in Europe that include European Mistletoe, which are employed in oncology therapies. Patented European drugs, Helixor® and Iscador® (containing Mistletoe lectins), are routinely used as a supplemental treatment in oncology therapy in Europe, but there are no conclusive studies in the United States to confirm these applications. (Iscador®, incidentally, was created around 1920 by the renowned German philosopher Rudolf Steiner.) Both The German Commission E has approved European Mistletoe as a treatment for degenerative and inflamed joints and as a palliative therapy for malignant tumors. Constituents in European Mistletoe vary according to the host tree on which it grows, but some common properties include glycoproteins, lectins I, II and III (high molecular weight polypeptides and the most active biological components of this plant), alkaloids, polysaccharides, acids (oleic, palmitic, anisic, caffeic, para-coumaric, quinic and vanillic), saponins, viscin (the active resin), potash, quercetin, terpenoids (beta-amyrin, resin acids, beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, sterol A), mannitol, inositol, fructose, glucose, starch, syringin, phosphoric acid, mucilage, lignins, tannin, amines (acetycholine, choline, histamine and tyramine) and vitamin C.
European Mistletoe is considered a nervine that is said to relax the whole body or a part of the body by affecting the nervous system. It has been used in herbal medicine for centuries to relieve the symptoms of epilepsy, convulsions, hysteria, delirium, vertigo, exhaustion, St. Vitus dance, nervous tension and to ease irritability. It is also said to be a mild botanical sedative.
Mistletoe is thought to be an excellent immunostimulant. Some animal and human studies suggest that Mistletoe lectins may stimulate the proliferation and increase the number (and cytotoxic activity) of healthy cells and natural killer (NK) cells ( large lymphocytes in the blood stream that are involved in the innate immune system with the ability to kill any cell covered in antibody, virus-infected cells and tumor cells), and they may possibly enhance the effects of chemotherapeutic drugs. Lectins are also thought to stimulate the movement of immune cells called T-cells that patrol the body seeking to destroy intrusive infection. Cytokine secretions (the proteins secreted by lymphoid cells that regulate the immune response) were increased after twenty-four hours of incubation with Mistletoe lectins. Some of these cytokines also promote hemopoiesis, the production of red and white blood cells (especially in bone marrow).
Mistletoe extracts may also enhance the immune system by increasing production of other cell types involved in the immune response. A report from Germany noted that a patient with inoperable adenocarcinoma of the pancreas was treated with Mistletoe extract derived from oak Mistletoe (officially licensed in Germany). After the third injection, the patient demonstrated a temporary period of stabilization that included no more weight loss during Mistletoe extract treatment. This study demonstrated that Mistletoe can affect the cell-mediated and humoral immune responses, which are collectively known as the specific immune system. This recognition of Mistletoe’s wide range of abilities may have been why the German Commission E Monograph on Mistletoe reported it to be a non-specific immune system stimulant.
The Commission E Monograph recommends Mistletoe as “palliative therapy for malignant tumors through non-specific stimulation.” One study showed that all three Mistletoe lectins demonstrated cytotoxicity against three different cell lines of human colon cancer, and one of the cell lines had an acquired multi-drug resistance. The Mistletoe lectins demonstrated even higher activity against the resistant cell line than against the “normal” human colon cancer cell lines, indicating that the Mistletoe lectins may specifically target some forms of cancer.
European Mistletoe is considered a cardiotonic that is reputed to regulate and strengthen the heartbeat, as well as regulate a fast heart rate from feeling nervous. The herb is believed to promote normal blood pressure and ease mild hypertension, thus possibly showing benefit in cases of hardening of the arteries. It is also said to relieve the temporary headaches associated with high blood pressure.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and folk medicine, Mistletoe has been used since ancient times to support the female reproductive system, including fertility, uterine bleeding, impending miscarriage, excessive, irregular or absent menstruation; however,
little modern research has been done to elucidate Mistletoe’s effects. Nonetheless, the few studies available indicate significant promise that some of these ancient and folk medicinal usages of Mistletoe may be sound. A research brief was published in Fertility and Sterility (2002) indicating that Mistletoe extracts resulted in pain reduction of post-hysterectomy patients with endometriosis (a condition in which the mucous membranes lining the uterus display abnormal growth patterns in which they can form lesions anywhere in the pelvic cavity. Often the membranes may constrict the organs of the pelvic cavity (i.e., ovaries), release hormones at the wrong time and location and cause extreme pain.
Mistletoe extracts may support AIDS patients by enhancing the immune system and thus giving the patient some added protection from the secondary infections associated with this disease. The anti-viral capabilities of Mistletoe extracts may be attributable to the presence of the Mistletoe lectins.
Used externally, European Mistletoe acts as a topical anti-inflammatory and has been applied for relief of arthritis, rheumatism, chilblains, leg ulcers and varicose veins.
Great caution is advised when taking European Mistletoe; it is a very powerful herb, and it should be used only under the direction of a qualified health care practitioner. Pregnant and nursing women should not use Mistletoe, nor should people with heart problems or those who take MAO inhibitors for depression or Parkinson's disease. All parts of the plant are highly poisonous if eaten. Do not take Mistletoe if you have tuberculosis AIDS, hyperthyroidism, an inflammatory disease, or brain or spinal cord tumors. Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following side effects: low or high blood pressure, fainting, seizures, change in eyesight, hallucinations, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. There have been reports of chills, fever, headache and allergy, and thus if there is itching, rash, tightness in your throat or chest pain, stop taking Mistletoe. There may be interactions with Mistletoe and prescription antihypertensives (an additive hypotensive effect), antiarrhythmics (i.e., Digoxin), due to its negative inotropic property.