For most people, mistletoe means nothing more than a white Christmas. Besides serving as a festive winter decoration, did you know that mistletoe has also been used in herbal medicine for hundreds of years?
It’s a little known fact that there is actually more than one type of mistletoe. In fact, it is believed that there are over 100 different species. One type of branch is mostly used for ornamental purposes, while others are harvested for their medicinal properties.

When it comes to promoting health and preventing common diseases, what is mistletoe used for? Here are just a few of the many conditions it can help treat:

epileptic seizures
arthritis symptoms

That said, although mistletoe has been considered a premier herbal medicine throughout history, there isn’t much evidence of its effectiveness…and some indicate that it could be dangerous.

What is mistletoe?

Mistletoe is a member of the Viscaceae family and is considered an evergreen hemiparasitic plant. As a parasitic plant, it clings to trees and feeds on them. It is harvested for its berries, leaves and stems. Mistletoe got its interesting name because many years ago people noticed it growing where there was bird droppings. In Anglo-Saxon, “mistel” means “excrement” and “tan” means “twig”. The name misteltan eventually turned into mistletoe.

Herbalists use mistletoe to make plant extracts that have certain physiological effects. The European plant, the type used as a supplement/medicine, grows on common trees such as apple trees, oaks, pines, and elms. Mistletoe plants form clusters or “bushes” on these trees, sometimes called “witches’ brooms.” During the cooler months, including winter, berries also grow on the branches, which attract a variety of birds.


Mistletoe plants are distributed across Europe, America, Asia and Africa to Australia and New Zealand. Among the most recognized species of mistletoe are:


European mistletoe (Viscum album) is the species used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine. A third species (Loranthus ferrugineus) is less common but used by some to treat high blood pressure and gastrointestinal disorders. Other species, including Japanese mistletoe (Taxillus yadoriki Danser), are known for their many antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.

Uses in traditional medicine

The name “mistletoe” is said to be derived from the Celtic word meaning “all healing”. Records tell us that mistletoe has been used many times, mostly to heal the nervous system.

It has been used to treat conditions such as:

nervousness/anxiety (sometimes in combination with valerian root)
skin problems
urinary disorders
heart disease

In some systems of traditional medicine, mistletoe was considered a natural “heart tonic” capable of strengthening the strength of the heartbeat and increasing heart rate. Herbal formulas including mistletoe, valerian and verbena were often given for “all sorts of nervous disorders” caused by hormonal imbalances, fatigue, etc. As a natural remedy, mistletoe was usually prepared as a tea or tincture. Another use was in making ointments for skin problems such as wounds and ulcers.

Role as a Christmas decoration

What is the relationship between mistletoe and Christmas? It has long been associated with peace, protection, romance and celebration. Today, the meaning of mistletoe at Christmas is to serve as a sign of love and friendship.

Why do people kiss under the mistletoe? It is said that this festive tradition began with the Greek festival of Saturnalia. Other sources claim that this tradition began in England in churches.
Records show that it became a symbol of romance during the time of ancient Norse mythology, practiced by North Germanic/Scandinavian peoples in the 17th and 18th centuries. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe then spread among British servants and throughout England. Refusing to kiss someone under mistletoe branches was associated with bad luck, as were mistletoe plants shedding their berries. Historically, the mistletoe also symbolized the need to conclude a truce between enemies. The ancient Celts and Germans used European mistletoe as a ceremonial plant and believed it had mystical powers. It has long been a symbol of protection against misfortune, illness and violence because it “warded off evil spirits”. It was also believed by some to have natural aphrodisiac properties, so it was sometimes used to aid fertility.

Is it poisonous?

Why is mistletoe bad? Because mistletoe can sometimes damage the “host trees” on which it grows, it has gained a reputation for being “poisonous” and is even referred to as a “pest” by some.
Mistletoe burrows roots into the inner wood of trees and feeds on their sap, and a heavy infestation of mistletoe can kill the branches of the host plant, or even the entire host. Technically, mistletoes are hemiparasites, meaning they get some of their energy through photosynthesis, with the rest taken from other trees and plants.

While mistletoe can sometimes kill trees here and there, it also provides food for birds and provides dense foliage useful for nesting. In fact, forests where it grows in abundance have been found to support many more birds including owls, robins, chickadees, bluebirds and doves due to their ability to eat and burrow. in mistletoe bunches.

What do we know about the effectiveness and safety of mistletoe when consumed by humans? Is mistletoe also a harmful product?

It is well known that certain parts of the plant, especially the berries and leaves, can cause serious side effects when consumed orally. Poisoning can also occur if you drink too much tea created from the plant. The toxic ingredient found in mistletoe is called phoratoxin. Symptoms most often occur after ingesting the leaves and usually last one to three days.

There are also potential side effects associated with the injections. Side effects that may be caused by mistletoe extract injections may include pain, inflammation at the injection site, headache, fever, chills, rash, and rarely allergic reactions serious.

Other potential side effects are vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and liver damage with long-term use. Consuming small amounts has generally been shown to be safe. Larger doses pose the greatest risk of serious side effects.

All that said, mistletoe, when used as a medicine, appears to be generally safe. According to a 2018 statement released by the editorial board of PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies, “Few side effects have been reported from the use of mistletoe extracts. Overall, there is limited research on the potential side effects of mistletoe consumption.

Mistletoe should not be used during pregnancy, as there are no studies showing its safety and some suggest that it may cause changes in the uterus that increase the risk of miscarriage. It should also not be used by people with an autoimmune disease, as it may make the immune system more active, or by people being treated for diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure, as it may change the level of glucose or sugar in the blood. As it is a controversial product and likely to cause adverse effects, it is best to consult a health professional before taking mistletoe.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.