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Mistletoe or Viscum Album
(also Birdlime, golden Bough, Holy Wood, Herbe de la Croix)

Since it's the holiday season, we thought we'd have a little fun with herbal lore. As you know, one of the main herbs we see in many homes during this season is the proverbial "kissing plant" known as Mistletoe.

The name Mistletoe comes from the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan; mistel, meaning mist and tan, meaning twig. The name is also said to derive from a similar Anglo-Saxon word, "mistl," meaning different, plus the word tan (twig) since the plant is different from, or unlike the tree on which it grows.

Mistletoe normally grows from northern Europe to northwest Africa and east to Asia. It is a parasitic, evergreen plant that grows on the branches of trees. Although the plant is most commonly found growing on old apple trees, it may also been found growing on elm, spruce, pine and poplar trees. While mistletoe is able to grow on oak trees, its growth there is somewhat rare.

Mistletoe is a true parasite in that it derives all its nourishment from its host tree. The plant is generally spread through the droppings of birds that have ingested its berries. The berries then send out a root, which pierces the bark and roots itself to the tree. The entire process from flower to fruit can take up to two years. Unlike most plants, which require darkness to germinate, mistletoe will germinate only in the light. Its twigs, leaves and fruit form a globular mass that can reach up to three feet in diameter and it can be seen growing sideways, upside down, or in several different directions.

Mistletoe contains mucilage, sugar resin, some tannin and is rich in phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and sulfur. Its proteins, polysaccharides and fat substances are credited with being strongly tumor inhibiting. Some say there is also a tumor inhibiting bacteria found in the mistletoe plant and the plant appears to increase killer cells (a type of immune cell) and augment levels of granular lymphocytes.

Medicinal Uses

Mistletoe is considered to be nervine, antispasmodic, tonic and narcotic. An extract was given, often combined with Valerian and Vervain, for all types of nervous complaints. A tincture from its leaves was recommended as a heart tonic in cases of typhoid fever. When combined with cayenne pods, it was recommended when there was debility of the digestive organs. Mistletoe has also been used to temper epileptic spasms and herbalists considered it to have great curative properties in this respect.

Mistletoe was believed to strengthen the glandular systems. It was also believed to "normalize" the blood pressure. In other words, it is said to help lower high blood pressure and also to help raise low blood pressure. Other claims for mistletoe include the ability to promote hormonal balance, ease heavy menstrual flow and decrease hot flashes, heart palpitations and any anxiety associated with menopause. The fresh juice is also said to increase fertility in barren women.

Cautions: Although the berries from mistletoe may be used in salves and washes for wounds, they are considered quite toxic and should never be used for internal consumption. In the past, herbalists did prescribe infusions, decoctions and tinctures made from the leaves and twigs of the mistletoe plant to be taken internally, but a strong caution was also rendered as large doses were known to cause convulsions in children.

Homeopathic uses

Homeopaths use Viscum album in a low-potency, or nonpotentized "mother tincture" for epileptic aura, petite mal seizures and heart conditions. It was also used for asthma connected with rheumatism, rheumatic deafness, chorea, metorrahgia and left-sided ovarian pain. Homeopaths believe mistletoe to be especially oriented to complaints on the left side of the body.

Magical uses

Mistletoe is considered an excellent all-purpose magical herb and was held in great reverence by the Druids and Celts. Its wood was believed to be a good choice for wands and ritual implements. Because of its rarity, the mistletoe found growing on Oak was considered by the Druids to be the most potent and sacred.

The Druids believed that it was a bad omen if mistletoe fell to the ground for any reason, or if they did not have "visions" of the plant for a long time. Druids only went forth to collect mistletoe after they had experienced visions in which they were directed to seek out the plant. Mistletoe was then gathered by Druid priests or priestesses clad in white robes on the sixth day of the new moon, or at midsummer. The priests and priestesses used a golden knife to remove the herb from the tree and great care was taken to ensure that the mistletoe gathered did not touch the ground.

Mistletoe was considered to belong to the in-between times of dusk and dawn and to be beyond the limits of classification since it is not quite an herb, not quite a tree. Some folklore accounts describe the plant as resembling a constellation of stars suspended in midair from the bough of a sacred tree.

Mistletoe was often carried as an herb of protection, or placed wherever needed. Amulets, or jewelry made of its wood were used as talismans of protection and to speed healing. It was hung over the cradle to prevent theft of a child by fairies, hung about the home to bring forth the blessings of the goddess of love and was hung in the bedroom to bring beautiful dreams. Mistletoe was also said to produce dreams in which the secrets of mortality were unlocked.

Well, there you have it; and we always thought that Mistletoe was just a cute little plant we hang during the holidays to help us "sneak a kiss!"

Caution:  Mistletoe is toxic.  When hanging the plant during the holidays, place well out of reach of children. This article is here for informational purposes only.  Information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. We are not responsible for any health problems that may arise from use of the information on this site.

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