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Now That’s Black Beauty

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Now That’s Black Beauty — roseography: Looks

Mistletoe The Plant – Is It Good Or Bad?

Is mistletoe the plant good for anything other than “getting caught” under? Visions of Christmas cheer, festivities, and kisses pop into our heads when we think of mistletoe. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe started long ago… where a berry would be taken off the sprig every time a kiss was exchanged. But there’s much more to this green, leathery sprig than you might think.

Mistletoe is the name for a group of parasitic plants. They have no true roots, and attach themselves to trees for survival. Mistletoe lives off the host tree – without it, the plant would die.

Mistletoe the plant is quite the vagabond. It is spread around by birds that eat the mistletoe’s red and white berries. A sticky pulp within each berry contains the mistletoe seed. The pulp oozes from the bird’s beak and fastens to a tree’s branches. Seeds can also be transported from one tree branch to another by the bird’s droppings.

Mistletoe – The Notorious Plant

The mistletoe plant has had an interesting bout with its reputation, both good and bad. Many people, usually those having trees that are burdened by this plant, think of mistletoe as a destructive nuisance. The plants draw water and minerals from the trees, and during a drought this can be quite devastating. Mistletoe infestation often results in deformities of the tree’s branches.

Pruning the infested tree is helpful, if the amount of mistletoe is small. For an overwhelming infestation, the only real remedy is to remove the tree. At the very least, cutting out the parasite itself will reduce its spread somewhat. The mistletoe will eventually grow back. Unfortunately, the chemicals that will destroy mistletoe are harmful to the host trees.

Is mistletoe a hazard? Yes, in varying degrees. Contact with the berries can cause a rash very much like poison ivy to people who are sensitive to it. Many mistletoe plants are also poisonous to small children and pets. Typically, ingestion of enough mistletoe causes stomach and intestinal irritation with diarrhea. Slow pulse and lowered blood pressure can also occur.

Mistletoe – The Honorable Plant

Historically speaking, mistletoe has enjoyed a high reputation of bringing about good luck and prosperity. The ancient Europeans considered mistletoe to be a sacred plant. Scandinavian countries believed that if armies were at war where mistletoe was overhead, the fighting would stop. In Greece, it was believed mistletoe would bring fertility and abundant life to newlyweds. The Druids used the plant for sacrifice, and Celts thought mistletoe had great healing powers.

Mistletoe has been a long-time favorite of herbalists and natural healers in Asia and Europe. The extract from mistletoe the plant (not its berries) has been used for treating conditions such as cancer, respiratory ailments, circulatory problems and epilepsy. The parts of the mistletoe plant used for therapy are the leaves and developing twigs.

According to the National Cancer Institute, laboratory and animal studies have been conducted with mistletoe. The findings suggest that mistletoe may enhance the immune system. However, few studies on humans have been done.

Although there is a good deal of information about mistletoe’s ability to affect the immune system, there is no scientific evidence yet stating that this heightened immunity leads to increased destruction of cancer cells.

All in all, the mistletoe plant has emerged victorious from such a diverse background. Today, the Christmas tradition of the mistletoe plant has sparked its market value and popularity. Just remember to keep it out of reach of pets and little ones… and when the mistletoe berries run out, so do the kisses.

Copyright 2006 Robert Mosse

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