Alicia PhD

Alicia PhD
New Hampshire, United States
September 08
Alicia has a PhD in Experimental Pathology and, after having worked in a genetics lab for her dissertation, now edits scientific manuscripts full-time from the comfort of the White Mountains. Alicia is also a writer, contributing health commentary and articles on disease and anatomy to many online publishers. She upkeeps a number of blogs devoted to her interests in public health and science.


Editor’s Pick
DECEMBER 17, 2009 2:30PM

Reflections on Mistletoe

Rate: 8 Flag

Mistletoe...usually it invokes thoughts of stolen smooches, or if you're a pet owner you may think of it as a no-no because it's toxic to most pets. But there are some who think of it as a therapeutic.

Last year around this time I researched the literature on mistletoe as an herb and found that a European variant is being sold by herbalists as a companion to cancer treatment. Now, that doesn't mean that the holiday mistletoe is not toxic, quite the opposite actually. The American variant of the plant, Phoradendron spp., is what we hang from the rafters in December, the herb being sold as an herbal supplement is the European variant, Viscum album. These are two completely different genus of plant, they just happen to be members of the same order (Santalales).

Ingestion of Phoradendron is known to cause death within 10 hours, and it should never be ingested, even as a light tea. The offending chemical components are beta-phenylethylamine, tyramine, and phoratoxin. 

Viscum album, on the other hand, isn't toxic, but high doses can severely increase blood pressure (though the herb providers claim it decreases blood pressure). Studies on the anti-tumoral effects of the plant have been inconclusive, but advocates claim it activates the immune system and can used to treat AIDS.

Anecdotal evidence, the only kind of evidence for any physiological action of the plant, from chemotherapy patients is that it eases the pain of therapy.  No's been known since the 1600s that it's a narcotic. And it's also often mixed with valerian root, a sedative and mo0d-altering substance.

So is it the narcotic effect or a real phsyiological effect? It's probably similar to its American cousin's kiss - the anticipation is usually better than the real effect.

Author tags:

cancer, christmas, herbs

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Fascinating! Rated
Thanks for the warning.
The Druids thought it could cure almost anything. I would class this with the belief that Selenium boosts the immune system, which it does, marginally...but if you take too much, you get an awful headache, which can't be good. Well researched warnings. Thank you. Rated.
Cool article... rated. A very dilute tea Phoradendron was used by various native tribes as a means of ending unwanted pregnancy.
NerdMafia, you indirectly raise a point I overlooked to address. The difference between a tea made with the leaves (as is the traditional concept of making tea and what I meant) and using the roots and berries. Abortion was induced by the roots and berries, which may not have the same toxicity as the leaves.
This may explain why the native tribes continued to use it, as I'm sure the death of the girl was probably not acceptable, which would be the result of using the leaves.

Thank you (and BOKO) for pointing out some more of the historical uses.