Loranthus, also known as mulberry mistletoe or Sang Ji Sheng in mandarin, has long been characterized by increasing lifespan and preserving health in many medical classics. It was first mentioned as a medicine by Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (the Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica). Medicinally people often confuse it with mistletoe (viscum album). But it is generally accepted by doing so since they are quite similar in healing properties. In summary, loranthus health benefits include lowering blood pressure, treating an abnormal heart rhythm, increasing coronary blood flow, improving coronary circulation, enhancing cardiac contractility, reducing myocardial oxygen consumption, inhibiting platelet aggregation, preventing thrombosis, promoting microcirculation, suppressing tumor growth, curing hepatitis, and so on.
What is loranthus?
As a matter of fact, loranthus refers to a genus rather than a certain species. The typical loranthus characteristic is that all of its plants are parasitic. That being said, loranthus parasiticus lives on other woody trees, apparently fed by directly robbing water and nutrients from the host. When it comes to such a mode of existence, loranthus is not alone and actually it is just only one member in a bigger group – the showy mistletoe family (Loranthaceae), which consists of 73 genera and more than 900 species. Hence, Loranthaceae is also known as the largest family of mistletoes.
Medicinally it mainly refers to the dried aerial parts of Taxillus chinensis (DC.) Danser (Loranthus chinensis Dc.) But the fact is China’s ancient herbalists used to obtain it from several different genera in the family Loranthaceae, including Taxillus, Scurrula, and Viscum. To date Viscum coloratum (Komar.) Nakai is still mixed up with Taxillus chinensis even though it has been recorded separately in the “Chinese Pharmacopoeia.” Besides, Taxillus sutchuenensis (Loranthus sutchuenensis Lecomte), Scurrula parasitica L. (Loranthus scurrula L.), Taxillus nigrans (Hance) Danser, and others are also used medicinally as loranthus mulberry mistletoe. Therefore, other names of this herb include Mulberry Mistletoe Stem, Herba Taxilli, Loranthus stem, parasitizing Morus, Sangjisheng, Loranthus parasiticus, loranthus ramulus, and more. In China, it is mainly produced in Guangdong, Guangxi, and Yunnan. It is usually collected in winter and next spring. After the harvest, it needs to remove big stems, cut into sections, and then dry. Medicinally it is generally used raw and in thick slices.
Taxillus chinensis is a small evergreen shrub. Old branches are glabrous and with raised grayish yellow lenticels while young twigs are slightly covered with dark gray short hair. Leaves are alternate, simple or nearly opposite, leathery, oval or long oval , 3 to 7cm long, 2 to 5cm wide, and with obtuse apex, rounded or broadly cuneate apex, entire margin, and faint, sparse veins; petiole is 1 to 1.5cm long, smooth, or with very short stellate hairs when young. Flowers are bisexual, 1 to 3 forming axillary cymes; peduncle is 4 to 10 mm long and covered with red-brown stellate hairs; pedicel is short; small bract is 1 in number, oval, and minimal; calyx is nearly spherical, gamogenic with ovary, and outside covered with red-brown stellate hairs; floral tube is narrowly tubular, 2 to 2.5cm long, 4-lobed atop, and with lobe that is purple, delicate, slightly curved, and covered with red-brown stellate hairs; stamens are 4; pistil is 1, and with slender style, flat stigma, and spherical inferior ovary. Berries are oval and with small warts. Bloom time is from August to October and fruiting time is from September to October. It is often parasitic on Moraceae, Theaceae, Fagaceae, Rutaceae, Rosaceae, legumes and other 29 families and more than 50 species of plants.
Leaves of loranthus sutchuenensis contain flavonoids, including quercetin, quercitrin, avicularin, and a small amount of catechol.
Numerous clinical studies have shown that mistletoe has a certain effect on the treatment of angina pectoris, hyperlipidemia, acute and sequelae of poliomyelitis, arrhythmia, etc. In addition, the pharmacological studies have also shown that mistletoe preparations are anticancer while mistletoe extract has immunogenic properties, which can be used as the adjuvant treatment of precancerous symptoms, prevention of the relapse after surgery, and advanced cancer. And the details are as follows.
Modern pharmacological actions of mulberry mistletoe
1) It has antihypertensive effect;
2) Its injection can dilate coronary artery and slow down the heart rate;
3) Avicularin contained has a diuretic effect;
4) Its decoction or infusion in vitro has inhibitory effect on polio virus and a variety of intestinal viruses;
5) Its decoction or infusion can inhibit the growth of Salmonella typhi and Staphylococcus aureus;
6) Its extract has inhibitory activity on hepatitis B virus surface antigen.
Sample loranthus formulas on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica thinks that it is bitter and sweet in taste and neutral in nature. It goes to meridians of liver and kidney. Essential functions are nourishing liver and kidney, building strong bones and muscles, expelling wind-damp, and preventing abortion. Its main medicinal uses and indications include aching lumbus and knees, weak physique, hemiplegia, rheumatic pain, lightheadedness, threatened abortion, uterine bleeding, and blood in stool. Recommended dosage is from 10 to 15 grams in decoction. Else, it can be used in the forms of loranthus tea, pills, powder, herbal supplement, and more.
1) Du Huo Ji Sheng Wan (Angelica and Loranthus Pills) from Qian Jin Fang (Thousand Cold Pieces Prescriptions). It is formulated with Du Huo (Angelica Root), Du Zhong (Eucommia Bark), Niu Xi (Achyranthes), Gui Xin (Cinnamomi Cortex), etc. to chronic arthralgia syndrome, especially soreness and weakness of waist and knees.
2) Shou Tai Wan from Yi Xue Zhong Zhong Can Xi Lu (Records of Heart-Felt Experiences in Medicine with Reference to the West). It is combined with E Jiao (Donkey-Hide Gelatin), Xu Duan (Japanese Teasel Root), and Tu Si Zi (Chinese Dodder Seeds) for tonifying liver and kidney, enriching blood, securing Chong and Ren meridian, and miscarriage prevention.
3) Sang Ji Sheng San from Zheng Zhi Zhun Sheng (The Level-line of Patterns & Treatment). It is combined with E Jiao, Japanese Teasel, Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Xiang Fu (Cyperus), etc. to treat liver-kidney deficiency, menorrhagia, uterine bleeding, vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, and uterine irritability during pregnancy.
Loranthus side effects and contraindications
The median lethal dose of avicularin is 1.173g/kg in mice by intraperitoneal injection. The toxicity is very low but the poisoning could result in death in mice due to clonic convulsions and respiratory arrest. And the median lethal dose of loranthus herb decoction is 11.24g/kg in mice by intraperitoneal injection. The toxicity of mistletoe actually is derived from its host plants. This is simply because mistletoe has no certain host. And mistletoe tends to have certain toxicity if the host does. Poisoning symptoms include headache, dizziness, stomach upset, loss of appetite, bloating, dry mouth, and so on. Once any of the above-mentioned symptoms occurs, stop taking it and seek medical attention immediately if necessary.