Once considered a sacred herb in Celtic tradition, mistletoe has been used for centuries for conditions as diverse as high blood pressure, epilepsy, exhaustion, anxiety, arthritis, vertigo (dizziness), and degenerative inflammation of the joints.
Beginning in the early 20th Century, mistletoe came into practice in Europe as an anti-cancer therapy and this remains a source of great popular interest. For example, in Norway, mistletoe has been considered a "non-proven therapy" or NPT but has been used as a popular method for healing.
In the last 50 years, many laboratory, animal, and human studies have been conducted on potential anti-cancer effects thought to be caused by immuno-stimulatory effects of mistletoe.
The most promising potential use is as a cancer therapy, but there is still insufficient clinical evidence to consider it a proven cancer therapy. Toxic effects seem to be rare, but have been reported. The National Cancer Institute monograph "Mistletoe Extracts" provides a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) information summary and overview of the use of mistletoe as a treatment for cancer, indicating that: [a] in animal studies mixed results have been obtained using mistletoe extracts for slowing tumor growth; [b] well designed clinical trials using mistletoe or its components have not been sufficient to prove efficacy in the treatment of human cancer(s); [c] mistletoe plants and berries are toxic to humans and their extracts are not sold in the United States.
Mistletoe is not commercially available in the United States, but two U.S. investigators currently have Investigational New Drug approval (IND) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to study mistletoe.
The German Commission E Monographs list mistletoe as a treatment for degenerative inflammation of the joints and as palliative therapy for malignant tumors.
Two major types of mistletoe, European and American, contain very similar proteins and are reputed to have different uses. European mistletoe is believed to reduce blood pressure and act as an antispasmodic and calmative agent, while American mistletoe is believed to simulate smooth muscles, increase blood pressure, and trigger uterine and intestinal contractions. However, there is little research to substantiate any of these claims.

Related Terms

ABNOBAviscum®, Abnovaviscum Quercus (AQ), all-heal, American mistletoe, Australian mistletoe, avuscumine, bird's lime, birdlime mistletoe, devil's fuge, Drudenfuss, Eurixor®, folia visci, galactoside-specfic lectin, golden bough, Helixor®, herbe de qui (French), hexenbesen, Iscador QuFrF, Iscador® Qu spezial, Isorel®, lectine standard, Leimmistel, Lektinol®, Lignum crusis (Latin), Mistelsenker, Mistlekraut (German), Mistletein, mistletoe of the appletree (Malus), mistletoe of the fir (Abies), mistletoe of the pine (Pinus), mistletoe extract PS76A2, mistletoe lectin (ML), mistrel, ML-1, mystyldene, Phoradendron leucarpum, Phoradendron serotinum (Raf.), Phoradendron flavescens (Pursh.) Nuttal, Phoradendron macrophyllum, Phoradendron tomentosum (DC) (American mistletoe), Plenosol®, PS76A2, SyvimanN® (mistletoe and comfey combination), Stripites Visci, Tallo de muerdago, VaQuFrF, Vischio (Italian), Visci, Visci albi folia, Visci albi fructus, Visci albi herba, Visci albi stipites, viscum, Viscum album Loranthaceae (family), Viscum album coloratum (Korean mistletoe), Viscus album quercus frischsaft [Qu FrF], Viscum abietis, Viscum austriacum, Viscum fraxini-2, viscumin, Vogelmistel, Vysorel®, white mistletoe.

evidence table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Arthritis (Grade: C)
One retrospective case study documented potential benefits of mistletoe extract injection in the management of arthritis. Further research is needed before recommending for or against the use of mistletoe in the treatment of this condition, for which other more proven treatments are available.
Cancer (Grade: C)
Mistletoe is one of the most widely used unconventional cancer treatments in Europe. Extracts have been studied for many types of human cancers, including bladder, breast, cervical, central nervous system (CNS), colorectal, head and neck, liver, lung, lymphatic, ovarian, and kidney cancers, as well as melanoma and leukemia. However, mistletoe has not been proven to be effective for any one type of cancer. Larger, well-designed studies are needed before mistletoe can be recommended for cancer patients.
Hepatitis (Grade: C)
In a preliminary description in 1997, some patients achieved complete elimination of the virus after treatment with
HIV (Grade: C)
Treatment of HIV patients with mistletoe has been done in Europe since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic based on proposed immunomodulatory effects. Treatment seems to be tolerable with minimal side effects reported. Mistletoe may assist in inhibiting progression but not all mistletoe preparations have shown equal effects. Further study is needed before a recommendation can be made.
Immunomodulation (Grade: C)
A few small trials found mistletoe to be promising as an immunostimulant in individuals with the common cold. Further study is needed to confirm these results.
Respiratory disease (recurrent) (Grade: C)
Studies of Iscador® (conducted by the same authors) document improved clinical symptoms and markers of immune function in children with recurrent respiratory disease (RRD) exposed to the Chernobyl nuclear accident. There is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against mistletoe therapy for RDD in general.