At this time of year in Britain, people hang branches of mistletoe and kiss each other under them. At other times, most people barely look at this semi-parasitic plant but it’s there. It grows on trees and takes nutrients from them. It also makes itself from air and sunlight, being evergreen with chlorophyll in its leaves and stems.
The European white-berried mistletoe (Viscum album) is native here. It’s abundant in the South West Midlands of England. It grows elsewhere in Britain too, and in many parts of continental Europe and Asia. Here’s a blog about V. album.
If you’re in an English-speaking country, mistletoe is all about kissing at Christmas. At a party, when you’ve been at the sloe gin all kinds of people may seem kissable. That person who annoys you… your boss… most people accept ‘under the mistletoe’ as an excuse.
Kissing isn’t the only mistletoe tradition and it hasn’t always been about copping off with people. In some cultures mistletoe kisses have been about healing the sick and injured. In modern times, some people drink mistletoe tea to treat high blood pressure (not only when caused by your boss) and some people inject mistletoe extract to treat cancer.
We know that many plants contain useful pharmaceuticals. But let’s not jump to conclusions about mistletoe as a cancer cure. There are many kinds of cancer and this ‘cure’ is based on an intuitive idea about cancer resembling a parasite. Professor Edzard Ernst reviewed the science about mistletoe therapy for cancer. He concluded that ‘the most reliable randomised controlled trials fail to show benefit, and some reports show considerable potential for harm.’
To some, alternative medicine is attractive. But after reading Prof Ernst’s words in the very well-respected British Medical Journal I say no. If you have cancer don’t inject mistletoe. Just enjoy the kissing.