A Traditional Christmas Plant with Health-Boosting Perks
Popular around Christmas and known as a plant that inspires affection when you stand beneath it, mistletoe is associated with Freyja, the Norse goddess of love. According to legend, she ordained that whoever passed under it should receive a kiss to show that the plant had ceased to be an emblem of hate. As far back as Hippocrates and Pliny, mistletoe has been used for vertigo, epilepsy, and tremors. It has also been used traditionally for headaches, kidney problems, arthritis, heart disease, and neuralgia. Mistletoe has a long history of use in Europe for a variety of health issues, including cancer. However, keep in mind that mistletoe should be used with caution as some species contain a poisonous compound called phoratoxin. Below I explore the different uses for the plant, along with safety guidelines.
Alternative Cancer Treatment
Used in Europe since the 1920s as an alternative cancer treatment, mistletoe extract has been shown to modulate the immune system, improve immune defenses, and reduce the negative effects of cancer treatment. It also increases the natural killer cells that fight cancer. Moreover, research indicates the extract hinders the formation of new vessels to tumors, thereby blocking the blood supply. While the research is inconclusive, some studies have found mistletoe extract may be helpful in treating the following types of cancer:
- Colon, rectal
In one review, mistletoe improved the quality of life and reduced fatigue during recovery from radiation and chemotherapy. The extract was also found to be helpful for radiation exposure, hepatitis C, anxiety, depression, gout, high cholesterol, and internal bleeding.
Traditionally mistletoe has been used to manage the symptoms of menopause, including insomnia and fatigue. For those who are post menopausal, the plant can help to strengthen the bones and prevent fractures associated with osteoporosis.
Coughs, Colds, and Asthma
Throughout Europe mistletoe is known for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties. It is considered a well-respected herbal remedy for respiratory issues like asthma, and for treating colds, sore throats, coughs, and fevers. It is generally consumed as a tea infusion, a tincture, or inhaled through a diffuser.
Diabetes and Blood Sugar Management
Animal models have shown that African mistletoe extract lowers blood glucose levels and stimulates the production of insulin in pancreatic cells. Researchers believe the plant helps to lessen the severity of diabetes by way of regulating insulin and blood sugar levels.
Some species and varieties of mistletoe are toxic — like the one found in America. It is crucial to avoid taking mistletoe in large quantities — ingesting three berries or two leaves or less is generally considered safe. Anything beyond this can cause serious side effects, including: vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping. Frequent use may cause liver damage. Oftentimes, the extract is taken as a shot beneath the skin and is generally safe if using appropriate amounts. Injecting excessive levels can lead to fever, chills, pain, nausea, skin rashes, allergic reactions, and vomiting. Since it can be difficult to determine the correct dosage, it’s important to work with a knowledgeable healthcare professional or herbalist.