Mistletoe: benefits and precautions

The mistletoe, whose scientific name is Viscum album, It is a plant with berries, leaves and stems that are used for medicinal purposes. Although there are an estimated 1,300 species, the European mistletoe is the most common when it comes to improving health.

According to a post in the pharmaceutical encyclopedia Drugs, is a hemiparasitic species that grows on host trees such as oak, birch and apple. This means that, although mistletoe photosynthesis is independent, it obtains water and nutrients from its host.

Now, since ancient times it has also been part of ceremonies and legends. It is not only a symbol of the winter season, but it was used in rituals for fertility and as therapy against diseases. What does science say about its benefits? We'll tell you then.

Health benefits of mistletoe

An article published through the medical journal Archives of Pharmacal Research states that mistletoe has been studied for its medicinal composition. It, which includes substances such as lectins, flavonoids, phenolic acids, sterols, lignans, terpenoids, alkaloids and fatty acids, among others, gives it the following properties:

  • Immunomodulator.
  • Hepatoprotective.
  • Neuroprotective.
  • Antimicrobial.
  • Antifungal.
  • Anti-inflammatory.
  • Cardiac protector.
  • Antidiabetic

Now, despite the investigations, for now there is not enough evidence to affirm its efficacy and safety. In any case, the aforementioned study concludes that, in the future, mistletoe may be the basis for new complementary therapies to support the treatment of various diseases. What benefits are attributed to it?

The berries, leaves, and stems of the plant are used in traditional medicine, although most research is done with intravenous lines.

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Mental health

Herbal remedies are not a first-line treatment for mental health problems. Even so, in some cases they are considered an adjunct to improve states of anxiety, stress and insomnia. Regarding this, a study published in Integrative Cancer Therapies made some finds.

In research, European mistletoe extracts were useful for reduce feelings of fatigue, exhaustion, depression and anxiety in cancer patients. This is because the chemical compounds in the herb stimulate the release of neurotransmitters that calm the nervous system.


Of all the plants associated with positive anticancer effects, mistletoe has been one of the most researched. Entities such as the National Cancer Institute state that the extracts of this plant are one of the complementary therapies with the most evidence regarding its anticancer effects.

The findings suggest that mistletoe has components that help to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells. It even seems that in some cases it helps to eliminate existing malignant cells.

Meta-analysis, such as one reported in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, conclude that the plant improves the quality of life of patients with this disease. In particular, there are mental health benefits and symptoms such as nausea and pain are reduced.

Meanwhile, previous research also determined that the plant has the potential to improve blood counts and shrink tumors. Even so, the National Cancer Institute states that more clinical trials are needed. In addition, it clarifies that it is not yet approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Immune system

Linked to the previous benefit, it should be noted that mistletoe has been valued for its immunomodulatory capacity. Several studies, such as one reported in Phytotherapy Research, found that European mistletoe enhances the immune response in cancer patients. Furthermore, it was a well-tolerated treatment in the trial.

Although much of the research has focused on its immunomodulatory effect against cancer, anecdotal data show that it also increases defenses in healthy adults. In this way, lowers the risk of common viral infections, like the flu and cold.


In traditional medicine, mistletoe and its extracts are used as adjuvants to regulate blood glucose levels. On this, an investigation published in Journal of Endocrinology determined that the plant has compounds that stimulate insulin secretion in pancreatic cells. For this reason, it is considered antidiabetic.


A number of diseases are associated with alterations in the body's inflammatory processes. Mistletoe, according to popular literature, has the ability to reduce inflammation. While more clinical trials are needed, there is scientific evidence to support these properties.

A study in Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research concludes that the plant has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential. He even suggests investigating it as a possible candidate against diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Meanwhile, a post in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests that mistletoe extracts relax vascular and intestinal muscle, thereby favors the relief of gastrointestinal problems associated with inflammation, such as spasms.

Mistletoe side effects and precautions

For most healthy adults, moderate mistletoe use is not a problem. Some side effects include headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and dizziness. However, these are usually caused by an excessive intake of the plant.

Tests of injectable mistletoe on cancer patients have found it to cause pain and swelling at the injection site. However, it is an unapproved treatment and, therefore, it is likely not among the therapeutic options.

The plant is contraindicated in the following cases:

  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • Patients with primary or secondary brain tumors.
  • Patients with leukemia or malignant lymphoma.
  • People who are being treated with blood thinners, antidepressants, medications for heart disease or high blood pressure.

Mistletoe is suggested as an adjunct in diabetes, due to its ability to increase the natural production of insulin.

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How to consume mistletoe?

It should be noted that most mistletoe research has been done from intravenous presentations. However, this has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and therefore should not be on the market.

However, yes it is possible to find mistletoe in the form of liquid extract, dried herb or tea bags. Although it is unknown if they are effective, there are those who choose to use it in these ways. If so, it is not advisable to take more than 10 grams a day.

Mistletoe tea

  • Add a teaspoon of dried mistletoe leaves (5 grams) to a cup of boiling water (250 milliliters).
  • Let the drink rest for 10 minutes, strain and consume.
  • You can take it 2 times a day.

Mistletoe: a supplement for health

Scientific studies on mistletoe have determined its potential to improve health. However, further investigation of its safety and efficacy is necessary to make claims. Therefore, it is not yet an FDA approved treatment and it is not a first-choice option.

It is important to use the plant in moderation, without exceeding the recommended daily dose (10 grams). In addition, you must be careful in case of having a disease or being under medical treatment. Do not ignore the risk of interactions and side effects.