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Mistletoe

  • Phoradendron serotinum L.
  • Phoradendron flavescens L.
  • Viscum album
  • Loranthaceae



Common Names

Phoradendron serotinum common names:
herbsAmerican mistletoe
herbsBirdlime
herbsGolden bough
Viscum album common names:
herbsAll-heal
herbsBirdlime
herbsDevil's fuge
herbsEuropean mistletoe


Parts Usually Used

American mistletoe: Leaves

European mistletoe: Plant, berries, young twigs


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

American mistletoe: An evergreen, semi-parasitic plant that grows on other trees, most commonly the poplar and the apple. It bears small yellow flowers in early spring, but better known are its pearly berries. The branching woody stem is swollen at the nodes and bears opposite, leathery, yellowish-green, obovate to elliptic leaves which are hairy when young but glabrous at maturity. The flowers grow in jointed spikes, developing into mucilaginous, white berries.

European mistletoe: An evergreen, semiparasitic plant found on the branches of deciduous trees. Roots growing from the yellowish-green, forked stem penetrate through the bark into the wood of the host. The leaves are opposite, leathery, yellow-green, and narrowly obovate. Pale yellow or green flowers appear from March to May, the female developing into sticky white berries which ripen from September to November.

The Chinese mistletoe (Loranthus yadoriki) Sang-chi-sheng; or (Lorantus kempferi) Sung-lo.


Where Found

American mistletoe: Eastern, southern and western United States.

European mistletoe: Found in Europe and northern Asia.


Medicinal Properties

American mistletoe: Emetic, nervine.

European mistletoe: Cardiac, diuretic, stimulant, vasodilator, narcotic, antispasmodic, nervine


Legends, Myths and Stories

Mistletoe is an evergreen shrub which clings to its host tree high up among the branches and gains its nourishment by penetrating the bark of its host with its roots and purloining what sap it requires. It is peculiar in the manner of its growth. The branches turn always toward the object to which the plant is attached, a curious habit which made the ancients think of it as a visible god protecting its sacred tree and which aroused in all early peoples so much of wonder.

Mistletoe (the "golden bough") was chief of the seven sacred herbs of the Druids, and others being vervain, henbane, primrose, pulsatilla, clover and wolf's bane. Readers keen to follow the Druidic example should gather their mistletoe on the sixth day of the moon's waning.

Mistletoe appears in many Greek and Roman myths, and is reputed to have been used to make Christ's cross (Viscum album).

Often of religious importance, mistletoe figured in folk lore tales and mythology in every country where it grew.

The power of this herb is of renewing itself when cut, one reason why it was held in mystic honor. In all countries it was worshipped as the soul and embodiment of the holy forest. To the Norseman only the "mistil" could inflict injury on the Sun God, Baldur; to the Roman only the "viscuan" could unlock the door of Hades for Aeneas to enter; to the English Druids only "Misleta" cut from an oak by the light of the moon could give protection to man.

Culpeper spelled this herb as misselto.


Uses

American mistletoe: Used for cholera, epilepsy, convulsions, hysteria, delirium, heart problems, and nervous debility. The Native Americans used it to cause abortion. An extract of the plant is known to increase uterine contractions and raise blood pressure when injected into the blood. The plant has also been used medicinally to stop bleeding after parturition (after childbirth). Also used as an oral contraceptive.

European mistletoe: In olden times, mistletoe was the accepted treatment for dropsy and epilepsy, although nowadays its commonest use is to strengthen the nerves and improve the circulation. A good heart tonic and antisclerotic, it also raises the blood pressure and speeds up the pulse, do not take mistletoe if high blood pressure is present. Combined with bear's garlic and hawthorn it will safely arrest, perhaps even cure, the progress of hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure. Has been used to treat epilepsy, convulsions, hysteria, delirium, and St. Vitus dance.

The tea can be used as a wash for chilblains (inflammation, itching, and swelling of the feet, toes, or fingers caused by mild frostbite), and leg ulcers and made into a compress for varicose veins.


Formulas or Dosages

European mistletoe:

Prepare an infusion of the leaves and young branches (diced), using 1 tsp. of herb to 1 pint of water. It is unnecessary to allow it to steep more than 30 minutes. The dosage is 1 tbsp. daily, increasing to 3 if no improvement is shown. Not recommended for children.

The juice from mistletoe berries dabbed on obstinate pimples will cause them to disappear. And it will also loosen stiff joints when massaged into the skin.

Cold Extract:

1. soak 1 tsp. young twigs in 1 cup of cold water for 24 hours. Take 1 cup per day, in 3 equal parts morning, noon, and night.

2. soak 6 tsp. leaves in 1 1/2 cups cold water for 6 to 8 hours. Take 1 1/2 cups in the course of a day, a mouthful at a time.

Juice: Wet the leaves and young twigs. When the water has been absorbed, press to extract the juice. Take 2 to 4 tsp. per day.


Warning

American mistletoe: The berries are poisonous, and children's deaths have been attributed to eating them. Do not use without medical supervision. May cause dermatitis. Do not use for blood pressure regulation without medical supervision.

European mistletoe: Use with care, preferably under medical direction. Large doses have a detrimental effect on heart action. Also eating the berries can be dangerous, especially for children. Do not use if Hypertensive or persons with heart trouble, particularly in large doses. Consult a medical doctor.

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