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The Practical Herbalist


Mistletoe is one of the most interesting, controversial and misunderstood herbs around. A common decoration during the holiday season, mistletoe has a long spiritual and medicinal history.

To start with, mistletoe caught the attention of early shamans and druids because of its ability to suddenly appear growing on the branches of sacred oak trees. It is a plant that never touches the ground and stays green all year. These seemingly magical qualities, have earned this parasitic plant a special status in pagan and Norse folklore. Like many "magical" plants, it was hung over doors to ward off demons. Its ability to seemingly grow without the aid of the ground and to spontaneously appear in high branches (seeds of the berries are spread by birds) made it an important symbol for fertility both for Europeans and Native Americans. This led to the tradition of kissing and historically sex in the presence of mistletoe.

From a medicinal point of view, mistletoe has a "moving, dispersing" quality that made well known as a treatment for cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis and other "blockage type" disorders. As a medicinal it has had some controversy. This seems to be the result of several unfortunate misunderstandings about the plant. There are several species of mistletoe, some are toxic and some are not. It is likely that toxic species have been used inappropriately. Mistletoe also loses its potency when dried, so if not prepared well, it will not demonstrate medicinal effect. There is also the suspicion that because mistletoe is such an interesting plant, that is was generally put in much higher regard than it deserved. In China where there is not this cultural reverence for the herb, the Asian species of mistletoe is seen as an important but not necessarily a special medicine.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066