European mistletoe, famous during the Christmas season, is a semiparasitic plant that grows on trees in Europe and Asia. Its young leafy twigs and flowers were used as an “all-heal” or panacea, said to be helpful for virtually all diseases. The herb is also said to have played a role in Celtic religious celebrations.
Note : American mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum , is related to European mistletoe, but it is thought to be more toxic and has not been well studied.
What is Mistletoe Used for Today?
In the 20th century, mistletoe became popular in Germany through the advocacy of a mystic and philosopher named Rudolf Steiner. The school of medicine he founded, anthroposophical medicine, recommended injectible forms of mistletoe as a treatment for cancer. The initial basis for this use was Steiner’s “clairvoyant” insight. Scientific tests were subsequently conducted with somewhat positive results, but current evidence is far from definitive.
Mistletoe extracts show anticancer effects in the test tube. 1-5
Oral uses of mistletoe have not undergone significant study. Very weak evidence, too weak to rely upon at all, hints that constituents of mistletoe might potentially offer benefit in
Injectible mistletoe extracts should only be used under the supervision of a physician.
Mistletoe tea can be made by soaking 10-20 g of chopped leaves in 2 cups of water for 8 hours. A typical dose is 1 to 3 cups daily.
In large clinical trials, use of injected pharmaceutical-grade mistletoe products has not been associated with serious adverse effects, although pain at the injection site and mild flu-like symptoms are common. Severe allergic reactions may occur rarely. 17
Oral use of a mistletoe product has been associated with hepatitis.
Mistletoe is not recommended for use in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease.
3. Duong Van Huyen JP, Delignat S, Kazatchkine MD, et al. Comparative study of the sensitivity of lymphoblastoid and transformed monocytic cell lines to the cytotoxic effects of Viscum album extracts of different origin. Chemotherapy . 2003;49:298-302.
7. Bock PR, Friedel WE, Hanisch J, et al. Efficacy and safety of long-term complementary treatment with standardized European mistletoe extract ( Viscum album L.) in addition to the conventional adjuvant oncologic therapy in patients with primary non-metastasized mammary carcinoma. Results of a multi-center, comparative, epidemiological cohort study in Germany and Switzerland [in German]. Arzneimittelforschung . 2004;54:456-66.
8. Klopp R, Schmidt W, Werner E, et al. Influence of complementary Viscum album (Iscador) administration on microcirculation and immune system of ear, nose and throat carcinoma patients treated with radiation and chemotherapy. Anticancer Res . 2005;25:601-10.
9. Augustin M, Bock PR, Hanisch J, et al. Safety and efficacy of the long-term adjuvant treatment of primary intermediate- to high-risk malignant melanoma (UICC/AJCC stage II and III) with a standardized fermented European mistletoe ( Viscum album L.) extract. Results from a multicenter, comparative, epidemiological cohort study in Germany and Switzerland. Arzneimittelforschung . 2005;55:38-49.
11. Orhan DD, Aslan M, Sendogdu N, et al. Evaluation of the hypoglycemic effect and antioxidant activity of three Viscum album subspecies (European mistletoe) in streptozotocin-diabetic rats. J Ethnopharmacol . 2005;98:95-102.
15. Huber R, Klein R, Ludtke R, et al. Frequency of the common cold in healthy subjects during exposure to a lectin-rich and a lectin-poor mistletoe preparation in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd . 2001;8:354-358.
21. Schink M, Troger W, Dabidian, A, et al. Mistletoe extract reduces the surgical suppression of natural killer cell activity in cancer patients: a randomized phase III trial. Forsch Komplementarmed . 2007;14:9-17.
22. Grossarth-Maticek R, Ziegler R. Prospective controlled cohort studies on long-term therapy of cervical cancer patients with a mistletoe preparation (Iscador). Forsch Komplementarmed. 2007;14:140-147.
24. Grossarth-Maticek R, Ziegler R. Randomized and non-randomized prospective controlled cohort studies in matched pair design for the long-term therapy of Corpus uteri cancer patients with a mistletoe preparation (Iscador). Eur J Med Res. 2008;13:107-120.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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