Mistletoe, also known as Hu Ji Sheng in Pinyin, is used differently under different cultural backgrounds. In the eastern culture, especially in China, it is often viewed as a healing herb that can treat low back pain, soreness and weakness around the knee, arthritis pain, excessive fetal movement, threatened abortion, high blood pressure, etc. But in western culture, it is considered more an art than a science although it is also used medicinally in Europe, especially in Germany. There mistletoe is a symbol of love, peace and forgiveness. In general, people there is accustomed to using them for decorating the Christmas tree or making them into mistletoe wreath hanging in the doorway.
What is mistletoe?
First off, this is a common name that covers a lot of obligate hemiparasitic plants; secondarily, it involves in several families in the order Santalales. That’s to say, mistletoe plant refers to a group of plants instead of a specific plant. It is characterized by attacking and getting into the branches of other trees with the haustorium and then stealing nutrients and water from the host plants. Medicinally, the species Viscum album is thought to be the best source. So, we are going to focus on Viscum album thereinafter.
When used as medicine, it mainly refers to the dried leaves and young twigs of Viscum album subsp. coloratum Kom. This is a member in the family Santalaceae and native to southern Asia, western Asia, and Europe. However, it is often viewed as another distinct species of Viscum coloratum (Kom) Nakai by the Flora of China. Hence, other names of it include mistletoe, common mistletoe, mistle (Old English), European mistletoe, and more. It is usually harvested during winter and the following spring. After that, it needs to remove thick stem, cut into segments, and then dry or dry after steamed.
Viscum Coloratum (komar.) Nakai is a shrub, 30 to 80 in height. Both stem and branches are cylindrical, dichotomous, trichotomous, or rarely multichotomous; node is slightly enlarged; internode of twig is from 5 to 10cm and with irregular wrinkles after dried. It is with opposite or rarely 3 whorled leaves; petiole is short; blade is thick leathery or simply leathery, oblong to elliptic-lanceolate, 3 to 7cm long, 0.7 to 2cm wide, and with rounded or obtuse apex, attenuate bas, and 3 to 5 basal veins. It is diecious; inflorescences are terminal or axillary in the forked branches; male inflorescence is cymose, and with boat-shaped involucre, usually 3 flowers, the central flower with 2 or no bracts, 4 sepals, and oval anthers; female inflorescence is cymose spike and with 3 to 5 flowers, long ovoid female flower buds, ovoid receptacle, 4 sepals, and papillary stigma. Mistletoe berries are spherical or oval, yellow or orange-red when ripe, and with persistent style and smooth rind. Bloom time is from April to May and fruiting time is from September to November. In China its usual habitat is that broad-leaved forest, alt. 300 to 2000 meters. It is parasitic on elm, willow, poplar, oak, pear, plum, apple, maple, alder, linden, and other trees. And It is located in the northeast, north, east, central and Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, Taiwan, and Guangxi.
Viscum album contains flavonoids, triterpenoids, other glycosides, meso-inositol, palmitic acid, succinic acid, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, protocatechuic acid, and other organic acids. Flavonoids include rhamnazin, rhamnzin-3-O-β-D-glucoside, isorhamnetin-7-O-β-D-glucoside, 3-methyleriodictyol, 3′-methylerlodi ctyol-7-O-β-D-glucoside, and viscumneoside Ⅰ, Ⅱ, Ⅲ, Ⅳ, Ⅴ, Ⅵ, Ⅶ. Triterpenoids include β-amyranol, β-acety-lamyranol, β-amyrandiol, lupeol, oleanolic acid, betulic acid, β-amyrin palmitate, β-amyrin acetate, β-sitosterol, daucosterol, etc. Other glycosides include syringin, syringenin-O-β-D-apio-furanosyl (1 → 2)-β-D-glu-copyranoside, liriodendrin, butan-2,3-diol-3-O-monoglucoside, etc.
In ancient times, it was once considered a magic herb that could protect home from evil spirits by hanging mistletoe on the wall. Today it is not only a popular Christmas decoration, but also a promising medicinal plant for lowering blood pressure and treatment of common illnesses seen in senior citizens or even cancer.
Interestingly enough, Britons believe that kissing someone under mistletoe tree during Christmas time will bring him with good luck. This custom is originated from the United Kingdom. But actually it has long been popular in Germany too. From November, the branches of this evergreen shrub can be used as decorative Advent or Christmas decorations. What you need to do is just to collect a few of them and tie them up with a wide-brimmed arch with red and white stripes.
Besides, the history of mistletoe tells us even more. According to mistletoe traditions, regarded as a talisman it can be used to bring good fortune and increase fertility; hanging mistletoe in the room can help prevent bad luck and resist witchcraft while hanging it at the door can stop the witch from entering your house; it was once deemed to be a “panacea” by some tribes in Africa, who believed wearing mistletoe would protect them from injuring in the battlefield; Austrians put it on the threshold in order to prevent nightmares; the British will hang it as ornaments on Christmas eve and place it under the pillow for dream divination; Swedes use it as a dowsing rod to looking for gold mines; in the area neighboring Austria and Italy borders, a saying that mistletoe makes people invisible has been circulating.
However, in comparison the mistletoe medicinal uses are more direct and immediate. And here is its pharmacology for your reference.
Modern pharmacological actions of mistletoes
1) It has hypotensive effect;
2) Its injection can widen the coronary artery of isolated rabbit heart, significant increase coronary blood flow, reduce heart rate, and first inhibit and enhance myocardial contractility;
3) It can prevent myocardial ischemia;
4) It has antiarrhythmic effect;
5) It can improve microcirculation;
6) It can decrease platelet aggregation;
7) Its alkaloids have significant inhibition on Lewis lung carcinoma, S37 sarcoma, Ehrlich Ascites Carcinoma (EAC), Sarcoma 180 (S180), Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARS), and L1210 leukemia.
Sample mistletoe recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica comes to a conclusion that it is bitter and sweet in flavor and neutral in nature. Primary functions are tonifying liver and kidney, strengthening the bones and muscles, expelling wind-damp, and miscarriage prevention. Main mistletoe uses and indications include ache in lower back and knees, rheumatic pain, threatened abortion, and bleeding in pregnancy. Recommended dosage is from 10 to 15 grams in decoction. Or it can be used in other forms like pills, powder, soaked wine, and fresh juice.
1) According to DU Huo Ji Sheng Tang from Qian Jin Fang (Thousand golden essential prescriptions), it is combined with Du Huo (Angelica Root), Du Zhong (Eucommia Bark), Niu Xi (Achyranthes), Xi Xin (Herba Asari), Qin Jiao (Gentiana), Fu Ling (Poria), Ren Shen (Ginseng), Dang Gui (Dong Quai), etc. to treat waist and back pain and kidney-qi deficiency due to the attack of wind-damp.
2) According to Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief), it is formulated with Ai Ye (Mugwort Herb) and E Jiao (Donkey-Hide Gelatin) to cure fetal irritability and stabbing pains in the chest and abdomen.
3) According to Yang Shi Hu Ming Fang (Protecting-life Prescriptions from Yangs), it is used alone to heal deficient Primordial Qi and heavy and weak waist and knees after bleeding has been stopped.
4) According to Protecting-life Prescriptions from Yangs, it is matched with Fang Feng (Radix Saposhnikoviae), Chuan Xiong (lovage), and Zhi Gan Cao (Honey Fried Licorice Root) to treat bloody diarrhea, weak tiny pulse, and with no fever and chills.
5) Bin Hu Ji Jian Fang (Collection of Simple Prescription from Pinhu), it is crushed to extract the fresh juice to cure hiccup.
Mistletoe side effects and contraindications
Is mistletoe poisonous? No, on the contrary it is considered edible in the eyes of the Easterners. Thanks to its amazing healing properties, mistletoe herb and mistletoe extract are commonly used in cancer patients since it is said that they are able to improve survival rate and quality of life. To evaluate the effectiveness, tolerability and safety of mistletoe extract in monotherapy or adjunct therapy for cancer patients, an experiment was ever conducted and the data on side effects showed that this herb usually had better tolerance and fewer side effects if appropriate dose was used, according to Mistletoe Therapy in Oncology (Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine: Volume 6, 2008 Issue 6.) In addition, it should not be used during pregnancy and lactation.