For thousands of years mistletoe has been a symbolic herb. Ancient cultures like Greece and Rome used it in medical treatments. The Celtic Druids of the First Century A.D thought the plant had romantic overtones because mistletoe can bloom even in the frozen winter. And in Norse mythology it was the plant used by Loki to kill Odin’s son, Baldur.
The kissing tradition seems to have started with servants in England then spread to the middle class. Men were allowed to steal a kiss from any woman caught standing under the mistletoe and refusing was viewed as bad luck.
But mistletoe’s use is not limited to this festive tradition. In fact, it has been used as a medical herb for centuries. What is mistletoe? Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant that grows on several types of trees. including: apple, oak, maple, elm, pine, birch. Because of its semi-parasitic nature, mistletoe needs a host tree to survive and live off.
(photo above: dried mistletoe) Over the years, mistletoe has been used to treat epilepsy, hypertension, headaches, infertility, arthritis, rheumatism and menopausal symptoms. Most interesting is that it has also been used in the treatment of cancer. Mistletoe is believed to be a possible anticancer agent because it has been shown to: have an effect on the immune system, killed mouse rat and human cancer cells in the laboratory, protect the DNA in white blood cells including cells damaged by chemotherapy drugs in the lab. Mostly used in clinical trials, mistletoe has also been used as adjuvant therapy in patients with cancer and is injected under the skin.
But most of this is happening in Europe: the use of mistletoe as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition is not approved by the FDA, (Food and Drug Administration). So in America, mistletoe extract has only been used in clinical trials. Also important to note is that American-grown mistletoe is unsafe for medicinal use – mistletoe extracts use European mistletoe. Despite not being approved by the FDA various mistletoe extracts are still available on Amazon and a 2-ounce bottle can vary in price from 15 to 30 dollars.
You can also buy it as an herbal tea. Mistletoe herbal tea is believed to help prevent build up in artery walls and may also protect against high blood pressure. In theory, mistletoe has these effects because it contains an active ingredient that dilates blood vessels. If you’re interested in trying, you can purchase Organic Mistletoe tea bags through Vitalife.
So this holiday season when you hang a bundle of the little green plant with its white berries over your door you’re looking at something much more than a simple holiday tradition. You’re looking at a plant that, perhaps once better understood, could be part of a new medical frontier.
related: more green holiday posts from The Alternative Consumer