Mistletoe: Uses, medicine, Synonyms, Effects, and Side Effects

Mistletoe is native to Europe and Asia and occurs on many deciduous and coniferous trees. The drug material is imported from Turkey, Russia and the Balkan countries.

In herbal medicine, the fresh or dried herb of the mistletoe (Visci herba), i.e. twigs and leaves, which were collected before fruiting, is used.

Mistletoe: characteristics of the plant

Mistletoe is a small, globular, evergreen semi-shrub that prefers to settle on trees and benefits from them (semi-parasitic). The leaves are oblong, leathery, entire and yellowish-green in colour.

The inconspicuous, yellow-green flowers in the branch axils which form white, sticky berries.


Two types of mistletoe

Different types of mistletoe are distinguished, depending on the type of tree on which the mistletoe grows. Two types of mistletoe primarily grow in Germany:

  • one that only grows on firs and pines (Viscum maximum) and
  • one that grows only on deciduous trees, except beech (Viscum album)

How did mistletoe get its name?

The German name “Mistel” is derived from the Old High German “mistrial”, which in turn is related to the word “Mist”.

This is because the plant seeds are spread up the trees through bird droppings: the ripe fruits are eaten by thrushes or other birds. The seeds in the fruit are indigestible, get from the intestines of the birds onto the branches of the host trees and germinate there.


Mistletoe as a medicine

Mistletoe consists of 2-4 mm thick, yellow-green twigs and sessile, entire, yellow-green leaves 2-6 cm long. The inconspicuous, yellowish-green flowers are less common, as they usually fall off before then. The pea-sized, shrivelled berries also only occur occasionally.

Mistletoe application

Mistletoe extracts treat inflammatory joint diseases such as rheumatism caused by wear and tear. For this purpose, injections are administered into or under the skin (intracutaneously or subcutaneously), triggering localized inflammation. The immune system then starts an anti-inflammatory reaction, which is also directed against the inflammatory processes in the joints and leads to local pain relief.

Mistletoe extract: Use against rheumatism

However, the dosage should be chosen with caution for this special rheumatism treatment, as excessive concentrations of the toxic viscotoxins can lead to tissue death (necrosis) in the area of ​​the injection site.

Mistletoe cannot replace classic anti-rheumatic drugs but is only used to support rheumatic diseases.


Mistletoe against cancer?

Another central area of ​​application for mistletoe preparations is supportive cancer therapy. Here, the herb is part of palliative medicine for malignant tumours. Palliative medicine includes medical measures whose primary goal is not healing but creating the best possible and pain-free condition.

When laboratory animal experiments demonstrated that mistletoe preparations had antitumor activity, it was hoped that another efficient remedy against cancer had been found. However, there are few well-founded results about the therapeutic benefits of mistletoe preparations in everyday clinical practice.

However, there are repeated reports of patients whose mental health improved as a result of mistletoe therapy, which can have a positive effect on the course of the tumour disease. The resulting increase in quality of life is probably also based on the feeling of being actively and directly involved in the fight against cancer. Based on current knowledge, it is impossible to make a conclusive statement about the effectiveness of mistletoe preparations in cancer therapy.

Mistletoe herb for high blood pressure

According to some sources, mistletoe also has a blood pressure-lowering effect and is sometimes used for mild forms of high blood pressure (hypertension).


Mistletoe in folk medicine

In folk medicine, mistletoe was already mentioned in old herbal books as a tumour remedy. In modern folk medicine, the plant is used for slightly elevated blood pressure, dizzy spells, lack of menstruation (amenorrhea) and joint diseases.

Homeopathic use of mistletoe

In Homeopathy, fresh, leafy shoots and fruits are used to treat diseases of the arterial vascular system, the heart, the respiratory tract, female sexual organs and the musculoskeletal system.

Ingredients of mistletoe

The most critical effectiveness-determining ingredients in mistletoe include the so-called lectins, more precisely, the mistletoe lectins I-III. These are proteins that specifically bind to sugars and various cell surfaces. In addition, there are strongly basic viscotoxins in 6 isoforms: flavonoids, lignans, biogenic amines, carbohydrates and small amounts of triterpenes.


Mistletoe: For what indication?

Possible areas of application for mistletoe are:

  • inflammatory joint diseases
  • Malignant tumours (only supportive and as a palliative measure!)
  • possibly high blood pressure

Mistletoe – dosage

Mistletoe can be taken orally or administered parenterally, i.e. by injection. To treat high blood pressure, mistletoe can be taken orally in the form of tablets, coated tablets, Capsules, pressed juices, powder preparations, or drops can be used.

Mistletoe is available commercially in the form of tea and filter bags. The plant is also part of some tea blends to indicate heart/ circulatory problems. Aqueous mistletoe extracts are available in ampoules for supportive use in cancer, which are then injected.

Mistletoe: what dose?

Regarding the average daily dose, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


Mistletoe – Prepared as a tea

To prepare mistletoe tea, pour cold water over 2.5 g of the chopped herb (1 teaspoon equals about 2.5 g) and let it steep covered at room temperature. After 10-12 hours, everything can be strained through a tea strainer.

If you have high blood pressure, you can drink 1-2 cups of tea daily.

When should you not use mistletoe?

Mistletoe preparations should not be taken if:

  • pregnancy
  • an existing hypersensitivity to protein or mistletoe preparations
  • chronic progressive infections, such as tuberculosis
  • high fever illnesses
  • primary brain and spinal cord tumours


special instructions

  • Mistletoe is not suitable for self-medication.
  • It should be used in tumour diseases of the lymphatic and hematopoietic system (including leukaemia, (non)Hodgkin’s lymphoma) as well as immunological tumours (renal cell carcinoma, malignant melanoma) should only be used after a doctor’s recommendation and under close supervision.
  • The injection should not be made into inflammatory skin areas or radiation fields.
  • Mistletoe should be stored dry and protected from light.

Mistletoe – Synonyms

German plant name: mistletoe

German synonyms of the plant: Bird mistletoe, hardwood mistletoe, Affolter, Bocksfutter, Drudenfuß, Elfklatte, witch’s broom, witch’s nest, evergreens, Kluster, Leimmistle, Marentaken, Mischgelt, Misple, Mistletoe sinker, Nistle, Vogelchrut, Vogelkläb, Vogellim, < a i=1>Wasp, Wintergreen, Wispel

Latin plant name: Viscum album L

German drug name: Mistletoe herb

German synonyms of the drug: Witch’s crut

Latin drug name: Visci herba

Latin synonyms of the drug: White Mistletoe Herb, Mistletoe Herb, White Mistletoe Herb, Mistletoe Leaves, Mistletoe Sticks

English name: Mistletoe, European mistletoe, Common Mistletoe, Birdlime mistletoe, Viscum album (Pflanze); Mistletoe herb (Droge)

Plant family Latin: Viscaceae

Plant family German: Mistletoe family


Mistletoe – effect

When mistletoe preparations are injected into or under the skin, local areas of inflammation arise, which can lead to tissue death (necrosis).

How does mistletoe lectin ML work in mistletoe?

The mistletoe lectin ML I is primarily responsible for the cytostatic (=cell growth-inhibiting) effect of mistletoe.

ML I binds to tumour cells and causes them to clump together. At the same time, ML I also affects immune cells, releasing substances that fight the tumour cells. The activity of the cellular immune system (macrophages, granulocytes) and T helper cells is also increased by ML I.

So far, All of this has been shown in animal experiments and laboratory tests.


What other effects does mistletoe have?

In the test tube (=in vitro), viscotoxins also inhibit tumour growth. All of this leads to an increase in the body’s defences and reduced susceptibility to infections, relief of tumour-related pain and improvement in tumour patients’ general physical and psychological well-being.

Inhibition of metastasis formation could also be observed in animal experiments.

As a rule, low concentrations of injected mistletoe preparations have a relatively non-specific immunostimulating effect, and at higher concentrations, the antitumor activity predominates. Mistletoe preparations are also said to have blood pressure-lowering effects, but this has yet to be sufficiently scientifically proven.

Mistletoe: side effects

Mistletoe preparations can cause side effects such as chills, high fever, circulatory disorders, headaches and anginal symptoms (chest tightness).

When injected under the skin (subcutaneously), temporary allergic reactions such as redness, swelling and lumps may occur at the injection site. Swelling of the lymph nodes and inflammatory irritation of the veins are also possible.


What are the interactions with mistletoe?

Interactions with other agents are currently not known. To be on the safe side, mistletoe preparations should not be combined with other immune stimulants.


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