When we think of mistletoe, we envision a wreath of green leaves and white berries hanging above a door, entitling one to a kiss. But what you may not know is that mistletoe is one of natures most ancient and highly revered plants both for its medicinal and ceremonial uses.
The name mistletoe most likely comes from the Celtic word for all-heal. Having been used at one point or another for treating everything from nervous complaints to bleeding to tumours, it would take a small volume to document it all. Among its chief uses, however, is its ability to lower blood pressure and heart rate .Its most controversial use to date has been as an anti-cancer agent. Suzanne Somers created quite a stir when, against medical advice, she began using an injectable form of mistletoe called Iscador during her battle with breast cancer.
But Suzanne wasnt ahead of her time, its use in treating cancer was actually popularized in the 1920s and is still quite popular in Europe and Asia. Although there are many types of mistletoe owing to its hemiparastic properties (it carries out photosynthesis independently but gets water and minerals from a host plant), it can grow on a variety of different trees: the European and American mistletoes represent the two main families.
What is in mistletoe?
The main active component believed to have a role in stimulating the Immune system is mistletoe lectin. Studies have shown that these lectins enhance the release of cytokines (chemicals that control the immune response) and also decrease the ability of tumour cells to spread. Regular injections of the optimal dose of mistletoe extracts have been shown to compensate for the immunosuppressive effects of anti-tumour therapies, leading to an improved quality of life for cancer patients.
Another reported use for mistletoe is for Diabetes mellitus , where the pancreas is unable to produce a sufficient amount of insulin. This particular use is popular in the West Indies where it is taken in the form of a tea made from the leaves.
Is it right for you?
But a word of caution, as with all plants, those with a therapeutic effect can be harmful if take in large quantities. Excessive amounts have been shown to impair heart function. Mistletoe is readily obtained in the form of tinctures and teas, whereas injectable forms must be obtained from a licensed practitioner.
Mario Alonzi, B.Sc., Manager of Nature's Source store in Mississauga