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Mistletoe – poison or cure?

December 25, 2012

I was always told that mistletoe berries were poisonous as a child. How does this square with the idea that mistletoe is a general cure-all plant? For example, in ancient times amongst the druidic myths that we have inherited and beyond that we have come to know mistletoes as “All Heal”.

“The answer is: it depends on the type of mistletoe and what part you eat. There are several species of mistletoe. The Phoradendron species contain a toxin called phoratoxin, which can cause blurred vision, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood pressure changes, and even death. The Viscum species of mistletoe contain a slightly different cocktail of chemicals, including the poisonous alkaloid tyramine, which produce essential the same symptoms.

Although mistletoe has therapeutic uses, eating any part of the plant (particularly the leaves or berries) or drinking a tea from the plant can result in sickness and possibly death. Unlike the holiday poinsettia, which has a bad reputation yet probably won’t do more than make you feel sick if you eat it, mistletoe ingestion warrants a call to Poison Control and immediate medical attention.” (source:

mistletoe  from an elizabeth blackwell hand-colored engraving 1707-1758

The healthy side of mistletoe

It seems that extracted parts of the mistle plant can have some beneficial effects:-

Extracts of mistletoe have been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory and to boost the immune system (the complex group of organs and cells that defends the body against infection or disease). For this reason, mistletoe has been classified as a type of biological response modifier (a substance that stimulates the body’s response to infection and disease). Extracts of mistletoe have also been shown in the laboratory to prevent the growth of new blood vessels needed for tumors to grow.

Ingredients in mistletoe that have been studied for their usefulness in treating cancer include:

  • Alkaloids.
  • Viscotoxins.
  • Lectins.

(source: National Cancer Institute)

Seems as though there are good reasons to re-evaluate the medicinal knowledge contained within ancient herbal practises.


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  1. Hello,
    Just wanted to say that I love this post although it is always good to be respectful with plant for herbal usage so many good plants go unrecognised.
    Blessed Yule season and thank you for all your good work, posts and sharing:)

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