Mistletoe (Viscum album) BY SINA SCHNEIDER
Useful plant parts: Leaves and berries Gathering time: Traditionally around summer and winter solstices Active ingredients: Mistletoe lectin, viscotoxins, flavonoids, phenylpropanoids, lignans The mistletoe is one of the most mysterious and magical of the healing herbs. Unlike most plants, it does not root in soil; instead, it grows between the earth and heaven. Impervious to the season’s cold and darkness, it carries its berries during the wintertime, and its leaves are evergreen. In ancient Britain, the druids harvested mistletoe during the winter solstice. It is said they used a golden sickle for this, believing that iron blades would make the mistletoe’s spirit disappear, and that the most precious mistletoes were the ones growing on oaks. The druids are also said to have coated the berries in silver to be worn on a necklace to protect against evil witches and spirits. In Scandinavia there is a legend about mistletoe involving the goddess Freya: The tears she shed for her absent lover transformed into pearls. She got to keep a string of those pearls, and she hung it between earth and heaven. Some say this is the source of our tradition of hanging up mistletoes at Christmas. Another Scandinavian legend tells about the sun god Balder, who was killed with an arrow made out of a mistletoe by the mischievous god Loki. In most European cultures, mistletoe is known as a “key” herb, or one that opens the gates to the other world. The Greek goddess Persephone unlocks the gates to the underworld each year using mistletoe. In traditional medicine, the use of the mistletoe is versatile. It is mainly used in form of tea or homeo-
pathic preparation. The tea slows down the heart rate and expands the arteries, and it is used for high blood pressure and other circulatory problems, to increase physical endurance, and as an antispasmodic. The druids saw the mistletoe as a symbol for fertility, perhaps because, even against the rhythm of nature, the mistletoe bears its fruits during the wintertime. Herbalist Maria Treben recommends mistletoe juice or tincture in combination with yarrow tea to increase fertility in both men and women. The most well-known use of the mistletoe in traditional medicine is in cancer therapy. It is said that injections of mistletoe extracts (from certified sources) can have a anti-neoplastic effect on tumor cells, as well as stimulate the thymus and activate important immune functions in the body. The mistletoe is used in homeopathic medicine to relieve stress-related sicknesses as well as to keep epilepsy patients “up standing,” perhaps because this unique plant resists stresses and is able to stand up, independent of both the earth’s pull and seasonal conditions, the whole year round. Sources Hollerbach, Elisabeth & Karl. Kraut und Unkraut zum Kochen und Heilen. München: Heinrich Hugendubel Verlag, 1983. Madejsky, Margret. Lexikon der Frauenkräuter. Baden und München: AT Verlag, 2008. Madejsky, Margret, & Olaf Rippe. Heilmittel der Sonne. Aarau und München: AT Verlag, 2013. Storl, Wolf-Dieter. Pflanzen der Kelten. Aarau und München: AT Verlag, 2014.