Common Names:Mistletoe, European Mistletoe or Common Mistletoe
Habitat : Mistletoe is native to Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to N. Africa, central Asia and Japan. It grows on grows on the branches of many trees, especially poplars, apples, chestnut and birch and especially on calcareous soils. Not usually found on conifers.
It is a hemi-parasitic shrub, which grows on the stems of other trees. It has stems 30–100 centimetres (12–39 in) long with dichotomous branching. The leaves are in opposite pairs, strap-shaped, entire, leathery textured, 2–8 centimetres (0.79–3.1 in) long, 0.8–2.5 centimetres (0.31–0.98 in) broad and are a yellowish-green in colour. It is in flower from Feb to April, and the seeds ripen from Nov to December. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required)The plant is not self-fertile.
This species is dioecious and the insect-pollinated flowers are inconspicuous, yellowish-green, 2–3 millimetres (0.079–0.12 in) diameter. The fruit is a white or yellow berry containing one (very rarely several) seed embedded in the very sticky, glutinous fruit pulp.
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It is commonly found in the crowns of broad-leaved trees, particularly apple, lime, hawthorn and poplar.
The mistletoe was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus. Its species name is the Latin adjective albus “white”. It and the other members of the genus Viscum were originally classified in the mistletoe family Viscaceae, but this family has since been sunk into the larger family Santalaceae.
Several subspecies are commonly accepted. They differ in fruit colour, leaf shape and size, and most obviously in the host trees utilised.
*Viscum album subsp. abietis (Wiesb.) Abromeit. Central Europe. Fruit white; leaves up to 8 centimetres (3.1 in). On Abies.
*Viscum album subsp. album. Europe, southwest Asia east to Nepal. Fruit white; leaves 3–5 centimetres (1.2–2.0 in). On Malus, Populus, Tilia, and less often on numerous other species, including (rarely) Quercus.
*Viscum album subsp. austriacum (Wiesb.) Vollmann. Fruit yellow; leaves 2–4 centimetres (0.79–1.6 in). Central Europe. On Larix, Pinus, Picea.
*Viscum album subsp. meridianum (Danser) D.G.Long. Southeastern Asia. Fruit yellow; leaves 3–5 centimetres (1.2–2.0 in). On Acer, Carpinus, Juglans, Prunus, Sorbus.
*Viscum album subsp. creticum has recently been described from eastern Crete Fruit white; leaves short. On Pinus brutia.
*Viscum album subsp. coloratum Kom. is treated by the Flora of China as a distinct species Viscum coloratum (Kom) Nakai
A parasitic plant, growing on the branches of several deciduous species of trees. It is not usually found on coniferous trees, though the subspecies V. album abietis is found on conifers, especially Abies spp, whilst V. album austriacum is found on pine and larix. The host tree must be at least 20 years old. Although the host branch might eventually succumb, the host tree is seldom killed.
This is a parasitic plant that grows entirely on the host tree. To grow it you need to obtain berries and squash them onto the branches of host trees in late autumn and early winter. This is best done on the lower side of the branch. It is then simply a matter of waiting and hoping.
Available clinical evidence does not support claims of anti-cancer effect, quality of life, or other outcomes from the use of mistletoe extract. Research has likewise shown little or no improvement in rigorous trials. Public interest in the United States was spurred in 2001 following actress Suzanne Somers’ decision to use Iscador in lieu of chemotherapy following her treatment for breast cancer using surgery and radiotherapy.
Mistletoe leaves and young twigs are used by herbalists, and it is popular in Europe, especially in Germany, for treating circulatory and respiratory system problems. Use of mistletoe extract in the treatment of cancer originated with Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. He compared the parasitic nature of the mistletoe plant to that of cancer, and believed that cancer represents a faltering of the body’s spiritual defenses. Some anthroposophical mistletoe preparations are diluted homeopathically. Mistletoe extract is sold as Iscador, Helixor, and several other trade names.
European mistletoe’s efficacy as an anticancer treatment has been subject to a significant amount of research. Studies going back 25 years show mistletoe impairs the growth of test-tube tumor cells. In Germany three mistletoe-based chemotherapy agents are administered by injection to treat human cancers. The great advantage offered by mistletoe extracts is that unlike other chemotherapeutic drugs, their immunostimulant and tonic effects are nontoxic and well tolerated. There is no doubt that certain constituents, especially the viscotoxins, exhibit an anticancer activity, but the value of the whole plant in cancer treatment is not fully accepted.
Several Indian tribes used American mistletoe to induce abortions and it stimulate contractions during childbirth. Koreans use mistletoe tea to treat colds, muscle weakness and arthritis. Chinese physicians prescribe the dried inner stems as a laxative, digestive aid, sedative and uterine relaxant during pregnancy.
Mistletoe’s use for Christmas decoration is discussed in a previous section.
The sticky juice of mistletoe berries was used as adhesive to trap small animals or birds. In South Africa it is called “bird lime” in English and voëlent in Afrikaans. A handful of ripe fruits are chewed until sticky, and the mass is then rubbed between the palms of the hands to form long and extremely sticky strands which are then coiled around small thin tree branches where birds perch. When a bird lands on this it gets stuck to the branch and is then easy to catch by hand.
Mythology and symbolism:
Mistletoe has always attracted popular interest and has been surrounded by a number of myths and legends. In some countries it plays a part in Christmas festivities. Pliny recorded an ancient druidic belief that mistletoe collected from oaks had special qualities; the same theme is reprised in the popular Asterix comic books. In Norse myth, an arrow made of mistletoe was the only thing that was able to kill the god Balder. The goddess Frigg had asked all other things to vow not to hurt Balder, but she had ignored the mistletoe because it seemed too small to be dangerous.
Known Hazards:The toxic lectin Viscumin has been isolated from Viscum album. Viscumin is a cytotoxic protein (Ribosome inactivating protein, or RIP) that binds to galactose residues of cell surface glycoproteins and may be internalised by endocytosis. Viscumin strongly inhibits protein synthesis by inactivating the 60 S ribosomal subunit. The structure of this protein is very similar to other RIPs, showing the most resemblance to Ricin and Abrin
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.