The Health Benefits of Mistletoe

Popular Complementary Therapy for Cancer

In This Article

Mistletoe (Viscum album) is more than just a symbolic token of the winter holiday season. There are more than 1,300 identified species of mistletoe throughout the world, but it is European mistletoe that has been used for centuries for its health benefits.

The berries, leaves, and stems of European mistletoe are used for many medicinal purposes, including boosting the immune system, relieving anxiety/depression, and improving cardiovascular health. It is also a popular complementary therapy for cancer treatments in many parts of the world.

Also Known As

Other common names for mistletoe include: 

  • Viscum
  • All-heal
  • Birdlime
  • White-berry mistletoe
Mistletoe leaves, stems, berries, and extract
Madeleine Steinbach / 500px Plus / Getty Images

Health Benefits

Mistletoe has been studied for several possible health benefits.

Anxiety/Stress

Feeling some anxiety is a normal part of life that can be caused by life events such as an upcoming exam or work deadline. But for some, anxiety is persistent and ongoing, and can have a tremendous impact on day-to-day life.

Mistletoe is an effective nervine—an herb that supports, soothes, and strengthens the nervous system—to help calm anxiety. Several studies have shown that mistletoe is effective at reducing depression and anxiety in cancer patients.

A good night’s sleep is important not just for physical health, but mental health too, and can go a long way in helping manage anxiety. Mistletoe has long been used as an herbal remedy for improving sleep. The chemical components in the herb release neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine) that soothe the nervous system and promote restful sleep.

Cancer Care

According to the National Cancer Institute, mistletoe is one of the most widely researched alternative therapies for people living with cancer. And for good reason—research shows that mistletoe may stimulate the immune system to help fight cancer.

Mistletoe extracts have anti-cancer activity, as mistletoe inhibits cancer cell proliferation (spread) and even kills existing cancer cells. Many research studies demonstrate that mistletoe is effective at improving the quality of life of cancer patients.

It is also proven to improve blood counts and even reduce the size of tumors. Some studies show that mistletoe can reduce painful symptoms such as nausea, loss of appetite, pain, fatigue, and depression/anxiety following chemotherapy treatments

Cardiovascular Health

As the body ages, arteries in the body get harder and smaller (atherosclerosis), causing blood pressure to rise. The higher the blood pressure, the greater a person’s risk for heart disease.

Mistletoe is a “hypotensive” herb, meaning it can lower blood pressure and reduce pressure on the cardiovascular system, helping prevent coronary heart disease and strokes.

Research shows that mistletoe has antioxidant effects, helping improve circulation and protect heart tissue and blood vessels. Mistletoe has also been proven to help regulate heart rate, with the ability to both strengthen a weak pulse and slow a fast pulse. 

Immune System and Respiratory Health Support

Feel a cold coming on? Mistletoe may help. With its antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, mistletoe boosts and supports the immune system, helping fight off illnesses.

Though there is not much research on humans, mistletoe has been proven to calm respiratory conditions like asthma in animal studies. The nerve-soothing properties of mistletoe may calm the respiratory system and relieve inflammation and irritation in the bronchial tubes, helping soothe persistent coughs.

Mistletoe may also relax tightness in the chest and bring relief to sore throats.

Inflammation

Humans have been using mistletoe tinctures for hundreds of years to help reduce inflammation both in and outside of the body. Scientific research backs up the anecdotal stories. The anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties of the plant make it an excellent candidate for helping treat chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.

Inflammation is the body’s response to infection, injury, or disease, and chronic inflammation can lead to autoimmune conditions that impact quality of life. Mistletoe extract is scientifically proven to reduce inflammation and improve quality of life.

Research shows that mistletoe extract can also soothe gastrointestinal issues caused by inflammation and improve digestive health.

Diabetes

Mistletoe has traditionally been used for generations to help balance blood sugar levels. Some research shows mistletoe’s potential in treating diabetes, thanks to its anti-diabetic properties.

Researchers found that mistletoe has the ability to lower blood glucose levels. Research on animal models shows that mistletoe reduces blood glucose levels in the body and stimulates the production of insulin in pancreatic cells, helping lessen the severity of diabetes and regulate blood sugar levels.

One study suggests that mistletoe extract may protect liver cells from free radical damage often seen in diabetic patients. Further studies are needed in order to understand mistletoe’s role in balancing glucose levels in humans.

Possible Side Effects

When used in the recommended amounts, mistletoe is rarely associated with side effects. Possible side effects—generally experienced when the dosage is too high—include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure or dizziness.

Injectable forms of mistletoe, such as those prescribed to cancer patients, may cause pain and inflammation at the injection site, but has otherwise not been associated with severe side effects.

Mistletoe is not recommended for use in children or for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It is important to speak to a healthcare provider before using mistletoe, particularly if you are on any prescription medications.

Mistletoe may contraindicate with many medications, including anticoagulants, antidepressants, medications for heart diseasem and high blood pressure.

Only European mistletoe can be used therapeutically, as American mistletoe is unsafe. Avoid consuming raw mistletoe of any variety, as it can be poisonous and induce vomiting, seizures, slowed heart rate and even death.

Dosage and Preparation

Due to the potency of mistletoe, it is better to start with small amounts to reach the desired effect. Mistletoe is available at health food stores and online as liquid extract, dried herb, and in pre-prepared tea bags.

Follow all recommended dosages on the labels of commercially available mistletoe products. Dried mistletoe that is used to make tea is recommended at no more than 10 grams per day.

Mistletoe tea recipe: 

  • Steep 1-2 teaspoons of dried mistletoe herb in one cup (250 mL) of boiling water.
  • Steep for 5-10 minutes.
  • Consume 1-2 cups per day.

What to Look For

Follow all mistletoe product label instructions carefully, as only small doses are required for its effectiveness. Only use European mistletoe.

There are mistletoe dietary supplements and homeopathic remedies available at health food stores and online, but most scientific research has focused on intravenous forms of mistletoe that are not yet approved as prescription medications in the United States.

A Word from Verywell 

Mistletoe is a member of the Viscaceae plant family. European mistletoe (Viscum album) is harvested for its leaves, stems, and berries to make herbal extracts, teas, and injections.

Mistletoe’s health benefits include fighting against cancer, improving cardiovascular health, relieving stress and anxiety, and boosting the immune system to help fight off colds and respiratory diseases. 

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