Synonyms: None Known
Scientific Name: Viscum album
Mistletoe is found from Portugal to Iran and from Scandinavia to Sicily.
Viscotoxins, lectins, flavonoids, biogenic amines, mucilages
Is it a plant or isn't it? This is a question you may well ask when you look up into the treetops and discover the nest-like crowns of mistletoe. These evergreen semi-parasites, which grow mainly on soft-wooded deciduous trees and conifers, stand out particularly amongst the bare branches in autumn and winter. This is also the time when the milky white berries arising from the flowers of the previous March to April ripen between the lance-shaped, leathery leaves. Mistletoe is dioecious, i.e. there are male and female plants. The seeds of the female plant are dispersed by birds. When a seed lands on a tree and germinates, it begins by forming an adhesive disk. After several months the so-called haustorium (a modified root) penetrates the bark and grows into the tree until it reaches the vascular system (so to speak the nutrition system of the tree). Once anchored in this way, the mistletoe can grow into a bush more than one meter in diameter. The number of forks reveals the age of the mistletoe, each fork standing for one year's growth.
In classical herbal medicine mistletoe is used to support treatment of hypertension and in osteoarthritis. Together with blackthorn it is used to strengthen the tired, weakened heart. It is also used for attacks of dizziness, epileptic states and in cancer therapy.
The medicinal use of mistletoe can be traced back to the fifth century BC In the first century AD Pliny reported the use of mistletoe for falling sickness and dizziness. This knowledge was passed on by Hieronymus Bock (1498-1554) and P.A. Matthiolus (1501-1577) who added the use of mistletoe ointments for sores and festering wounds. Pastor Kneipp staunched the flow of blood with mistletoe and treated disturbances of the circulation.
In the ancient myths mistletoe was revered like a sacred object. A person in possession of it could relieve pain, heal the sick, find treasures and all his wishes were fulfilled. It is therefore not surprising that, in ancient illustrations, we find gods, medicine men, priests, generals and kings depicted holding mistletoe branches in their hands. It is easy to imagine how mistletoe acquired this special reputation when we think of the strange manner in which mistletoe crowns the treetops in our part of the world. In the past people thought that the gods had scattered the mistletoe seeds over the trees.
In winter, at the time of the waxing moon, the Druid priests of the Celts went into the woods to the mistletoe-bearing oaks to perform their prayers and sacrifices. Clothed in white robes they climbed into the mighty tree tops and, using golden sickles, cut the mistletoe branches, which were then caught in white cloths by their assistants. The mistletoe was not allowed to touch the earth.
In the Nordic Baldur myth the mistletoe becomes a deadly weapon. Baldur, the favorite son of the gods and humans, dreams that a misfortune befalls him. His mother Freya wants to prevent this dream from coming true and therefore calls upon all beings to swear an oath that they will do her son no harm. The fact that all creatures swear the oath is celebrated in a great feast during which everyone throws some object at Baldur to prove that nothing more can wound him. Only Loki, Baldur's brother, is seized with envy and, in disguise, asks Freya whether all beings have really sworn the oath. She replies that only one being had seemed too young for the oath: the mistletoe. Hearing this, Loki disappears to look for some mistletoe. He returns to the feast with the plant and joins the blind Hödur whom he persuades to throw something at Baldur, too. Loki places the mistletoe in his hand. Guided by Loki, Hödur throws the mistletoe at Baldur, wounding him fatally.
Customs associated with mistletoe which are still practiced today usually go back to earlier sacred rituals. The custom of hanging a branch of mistletoe over the door at Christmas time comes from England. Every woman standing under the mistletoe can be kissed.
Mistletoe is found as ancient fertility symbol in many countries, for example in France and even in Japan. In some parts of Switzerland the bride carries mistletoe branches in her garland on her wedding day.
Mistletoe is also said to ward off fire and lightening and even to extinguish fires.
The church used mistletoe against possession and therefore carved rosaries and crucifixes from its wood. Incidentally, the name mistletoe probably derives from mistel or mist (= birdlime), a reference to the way the seeds are spread by being deposited in birds' droppings.
The plant from another perspective
Plants develop in polarities such as light and darkness, lightness and heaviness, movement and rest. The plant's green upward-striving shoot shows its relationship to light, lightness and movement. The root, on the other hand, is turned towards darkness, heaviness and rest. Mistletoe seems to lack these polarities, having neither an upward striving shoot nor a root growing into the earth. Spherical, with poorly differentiated leaf and crown, always green and with little woodiness, its growth seems to have been arrested in the embryonic stage. Maybe this is why Goethe called mistletoe the child amongst the plants. However, the mistletoe has its polarities, too, but in this case they are contained within the plant in the form of it's constituents viscotoxin and mistletoe lectin:
Viscotoxins act quickly, dissolve cell membranes, help the mistletoe to expand, to grow. The upward striving sprouting process is revealed here.
Mistletoe lectin on the other hand acts slowly, penetrates into the cell metabolism and inhibits it. The root forming process, the coming-to-rest is manifested here.
These polarities are also reflected in the plant parts, the light viscotoxin occurring particularly in the leaves and stems, the dark mistletoe lectin being found mainly in the berries which only adorn the plant in winter. Mistletoe is therefore harvested twice a year for preparations for cancer therapy: once in June and once in December. The juices obtained from the two mistletoe harvests have different viscotoxin and lectin contents and are processed in different ways, the opposite polarity being intensified in each case. The winter juice is whirled outwards from the center into lightness, the summer juice is added dropwise into heaviness, into the center of the winter juice vortex. The two juices are mixed to form a drug which helps the patient to order inner imbalances and thus to draw strength from his own center.
The plant in our products
Mistletoe leafe extracts are a component of: