Long used for protection against lightning, disease, and misfortune of every kind, fires and so on, it is carried or placed in an appropriate spot for these uses. The leaves and berries are used. Mistletoe is placed in cradles to protect children from being stolen by fairies and replaced with changelings. A ring carved of mistletoe wood will ward off sicknesses when worn and the plant will cure fresh wounds quickly when carried (do not apply to the wound). Mistletoe is also carried or worn for good luck in hunting, and women carry the herb to aid in conception. It has also been utilized in spells designed to capture that elusive state of immortality, and to open locks. Laid near the bedroom door, mistletoe gives restful sleep and beautiful dreams, as it does when placed beneath the pillow or hung at the headboard. Kiss your love beneath mistletoe and you'll stay in love. Burned, mistletoe banishes evil. Wear it around your neck to attain invisibility. Mistletoe is an all-purpose herb.
The word "mistletoe" is about as nonspecific a term as you could possibly apply to a plant material. The addition of "American" or "European" helps a little. When properly used, American mistletoe refers to a single one of the more than 200 species of the genus Phoradendron. However, this species has four different scientific names, each of which is used more or less interchangeably. The most acceptable designation, of quite recent coinage, is Phoradendron leucarpum (Raf.) Rev. & M. C. Johnst., synonymous with P. serotinum (Raf.) M. C. Johnst. and P. flavescens (Pursh) Nutt. The nomenclature seems to be evolving more rapidly than the plant group itself. Once considered synonymous with P. tomentosum (DC.) Engelm, subspecies macrophyllum (Cockerell) Wiens, that taxon is now referred to as P. macrophyllum (Engelm.) Cockerell subspecies macrophyllum. At first glance, the nomenclature for European mistletoe seems simpler; it is Viscum album L.. But there are three subspecies commonly recognized: platyspermum Kell., growing on broadleaf trees; abietis Beck, growing on silver fir; and laxum Fiek, growing on various pines, seldom on firs. All of these plants are parasitic shrubs belonging to the family Viscaceae.
Although the berries of both American and European mistletoe have long been considered poisonous, the leaves, in the form of a tea, have a considerable reputation as a home remedy. The reputed uses of the two plants are as different as their names. American mistletoe is believed to stimulate smooth muscles, causing a rise in blood pressure and increased uterine and intestinal contractions. European mistletoe has precisely the opposite reputation of reducing blood pressure and acting as an antispasmodic and calmative agent.
Actually, both kinds of mistletoe contain toxic proteins that are very similar in their chemical composition. These are designated phoratoxin when isolated from Phoradendron species and viscotoxins when obtained from various subspecies of Viscum album. Contrary to the folkloric reputation of the respective plants containing them, phoratoxin and the viscotoxins produced similar effects when injected into test animals. These included hypotension, slowing and weakening of the heartbeat, and constriction of the blood vessels in the skin and skeletal muscles. However, it must be noted that the effects of these toxins following oral administration in human beings have not been studied.
Extracts of European mistletoe are sometimes employed in Germany in the treatment of malignant tumors. A sterile solution, available commercially, is injected either intravenously or into the tumor itself to provide palliative treatment for certain types of cancer. The medication has not been approved for use in the United States. Such use of mistletoe extracts has led to identification in the plant of three lectins, that is, proteins which agglutinate red blood cells. Many plant lectins are highly cytotoxic, and research is currently being conducted to determine their potential in cancer chemotherapy.
Certain Australian species of mistletoe have been shown to extract toxic principles, such as alkaloids and glycosides, from the host plants on which they grow as parasites. Thus, mistletoes grown on Duboisia species contain toxic solanaceous alkaloids and those grown on oleander contain potent cardiac glycosides. The identity of the host plants on which the parasitic mistletoe is found is therefore extremely important if the crude plant material is to be used as a medicine.
Many popular writers on herbs recommend mistletoe tea as a treatment for conditions from anxiety to cancer. Because of the relatively high price of coffee, some persons have even advocated it as a pleasant-tasting substitute. Recent surveys of poisonous plants in the United States continue to emphasize the toxic nature of American mistletoe berries, but German sources now maintain that the berries, but not the leaves, of European mistletoe have only slight toxicity, if any. Until more definitive information is forthcoming, use of either type of mistletoe as a home remedy or as a beverage should definitely be avoided.
For many centuries, herbalists throughout Europe had relied on a tea and tincture of the berries to treat some of the symptoms associated with raised blood pressure: headaches, dizziness, loss of energy, irritability, etc. So from the grave has come one ancient remedy for a very serious medical condition.
European herbalists have a couple of different ways of using mistletoe as a heart sedative and antihypertensive. One way is to take equal parts (about two tablesthingys each) of mistletoe and hawthorn berries and lemon balm leaves and steep them in two pints of boiling water for 25 minutes. One-half cup of the warm tea is taken morning and evening. The other way is to soak 4 teasthingys of chopped mistletoe in 1-1/4 pints of cold water overnight, and take one cup of the cool beverage first thing the next morning.
Leaves, branches, berries.
European mistletoe is chiefly used to lower blood pressure and heart rate, ease anxiety, and promote sleep. In low doses mistletoe also relieves panic attacks, headaches, and improves concentration. European mistletoe is also prescribed for tinnitus and epilepsy. In anthroposophical medicine, extracts of the berries are injected to treat cancer.
Other medical uses - Breast cancer, Ovarian cancer.
Also known as the golden bough. Held sacred by both the Celtic Druids and the Norseman.
Once called Allheal, used in folk medicine to cure many ills. North American Indians used it for toothache, measles and dog bites. Today the plant is still used medicinally, though only in skilled hands...it's a powerful plant.
It was also the plant of peace in Scandinavian antiquity. If enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms and maintained a truce until the next day.
Mistletoe was used by the Druid priesthood in a very special ceremony held around this time...five days after the New Moon following winter solstice, to be precise. The Druid priests would cut mistletoe from a holy oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground. Celts believed this parasitic plant held the soul of the host tree.
The priest then divided the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils. The folklore, and the magical powers of this plant, blossomed over the centuries A sprig placed in a baby's cradle would protect the child from faeries. Giving a sprig to the first cow calving after New Year would protect the entire herd. And so forth.
Now for the kissing part. Although many sources say that kissing under the mistletoe is a purely English custom, there's another, more charming explanation for its origin that extends back into Norse mythology. It's the story of a loving, if overprotective, mother.
The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements--fire, water, air, and earth--that they would not harm her beloved Balder.
Leave it to Loki, a sly, evil spirit, to find the loophole. The loophole was mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood. To make the prank even nastier, he took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead.
Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant--making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.
One of those fabulous Dickens sprawling sentences:
"From the centre of the ceiling of this kitchen, old Wardle had just suspended with his own hands a huge branch of mistletoe, and this same branch of mistletoe instantaneously gave rise to a scene of general and most delightful struggling and confusion; in the midst of which, Mr. Pickwick, with a gallantry that would have done honour to a descendant of Lady Tollimglower herself, took the old lady by the hand, led her beneath the mystic branch, and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum."
--The Pickwick Papers