Additional notes (click to expand)

Horticulture

Viscum album is a small woody shrub, frequently globular in shape that can reach over 1m (3 feet) in diameter. It is growing on the branches of our apple espalier (Malus domestica 'Court Pendu Plat'), to which it is attached by a swelling called a haustorium. In common with all mistletoes, it is hemiparasitic which means that although it depends on its host for water and mineral nutrients, it is able to photosynthesise because it has green leaves and stems. V. album uses thread-like roots to obtain nourishment from its host. At no period does this semiparasite derive nourishment from the soil, or from decayed bark, like some fungi. As it establishes, the root becomes woody and thick. The stems of the mistletoe appear characteristically forked, (pseudo-dichotomously branched) and it is possible to estimate the age of a mistletoe bush simply by counting the number of times that the branches fork and adding two years (since often one fork is produced in each year from the third year after germination). V. album is dioecious, which means that male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. The small, easily overlooked flowers are produced in a short inflorescence of three to five flowers in the forks of the branches. Although small, the flowers are reported to be fly pollinated and they are said to be sweetly scented and to produce nectar. The white berries appear from about October until May. Inside they contain a single green seed which lacks a seed coat but is surrounded by a sticky pulp. The sticky pulp may either cling to a bird's bill or else pass through its gut unharmed. When the seeds are voided, or the bird wipes the pulp off into a branch-crevice, the mistletoe seeds are dispersed. Mistle thrushes and blackcaps commonly eat the fruits, the association with the former being the possible origin of the common name of this plant.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2016. Viscum album (mistletoe). [ONLINE] http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/viscum-album-mistletoe link

Medicinal

Mistletoe has had a long history of use in folk medicine. Druids (members of a priestly class active in Gaul during pre-Christian times) regarded mistletoe growing on oak trees as superior. Some of the constituent compounds of mistletoe affect the immune, circulatory and cardiac systems. Mistletoe has been used historically as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, digestive and diuretic, and, among the many ailments it has been used to treat are epilepsy, ulcers, high blood pressure, rheumatism and certain types of cancer. Despite experimental anti-tumour effects, research is still underway to determine its clinical role, although the commercially available mistletoe extracts such as Iscador and Helixor are widely used as oncological drugs, particularly in Germany.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2016. Viscum album (mistletoe). [ONLINE] http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/viscum-album-mistletoe link

Historically, the berries have been used locally in a medicinal capacity and are still used in herbal medicine. It has been known to relax the nervous system, to be cytotoxic and immunostimulatory since the time of Pliny the Elder.
Mabberley, D.J. (1997) The Plant Book, ed.2, Cambridge University Press p.900

Nomenclature

The Latin name of the genus, Viscum, signifying sticky, was assigned to it from the glutinous juice of its berries.
Grieve, Mrs M. (1931). A Modern Herbal, Penguin. Leyel, Mrs CF p.547

In Brittany, where mistletoe grows so abundantly, the plant is called Herbe de la Croix, because, according to an old legend, the Cross was made from its wood, on account of which it was degraded to be a parasite.
Grieve, Mrs M. (1931). A Modern Herbal, Penguin. Leyel, Mrs CF p.547

The English name is said to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon Misteltan, tan signifying twig, and mistel from mist, which in old Dutch meant birdlime; thus, according to Professor Skeat, Mistletoe means 'birdlime twig,' a reference to the fact that the berries have been used for making birdlime. Bird lime is an adhesive substance used in trapping birds. Mrs Grieves goes onto to write that Dr. Prior, however derives the word from tan, a twig, and mistl, meaning different, from its being unlike the tree it grows on. In the fourteenth century it was termed 'Mystyldene' and also Lignum crucis, an allusion to the legend just mentioned (above).
Grieve, Mrs M. (1931). A Modern Herbal, Penguin. Leyel, Mrs CF p.547

Other use

Druids used the plant as an aphrodisiac, and in Scandinavian tales it symbolises peace and love. The plant has also been used as a festive decoration. Until the arrival of Christmas trees in the nineteenth century, the kissing bough held centre stage at Christmas, when a berry was plucked with each kiss until none was left. Today, mistletoe is still a favourite Christmas decoration.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2016. Viscum album (mistletoe). [ONLINE] http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/viscum-album-mistletoe link

Border towns between England and Wales, in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Shropshire and Worcestershire, are the traditional centres for mistletoe trade. Tenbury Wells (in Herefordshire) has the last remaining specialist mistletoe auctions based on material gathered by local orchard owners and their casual workers. Despite the English harvest, imports - mostly from France - seem to be the source of most seasonal mistletoe in the London markets.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2016. Viscum album (mistletoe). [ONLINE] http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/viscum-album-mistletoe link

Phytochemistry

Phytochemical screening has shown the presence of alkaloids, carbohydrates, tannins and flavonoids.
Oguntoye, S.O., Olatunji, G.A., Kolawole O.M. and Enonbun, K.I. 2008. Phytochemical Screening and Antibacterial Activity of Viscum album (Mistletoe) Extracts. Plant Sciences Research. [ONLINE] Accessed 05 February 16. http://medwelljournals.com/abstract/?doi=psres.2008.44.46 link

Toxicity

Mistletoe contains a mixture of toxic proteins, viscotoxins and mistletoe lectins. The leaves and stems are reported to be more poisonous than the fruits, and there is some evidence that the toxicity depends on the species of tree on which mistletoe is growing. Most problems are likely to arise when mistletoe is cut and brought indoors (for example at Christmas-time), and usually involve children who have eaten the fruits. Reactions vary and depend on the age of the child and the number of fruits eaten. As few as three or four berries may produce mild stomach ache; if large numbers are eaten gastroenteritis and diarrhoea may result. Poisoning is rarely serious, but it is best to seek medical advice. Pets can be at risk; some cases of dog poisoning have been fatal.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2016. Viscum album (mistletoe). [ONLINE] http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/viscum-album-mistletoe link

Geographical distribution

  • Africa, Northern Africa, Algeria
  • Africa, Northern Africa, Morocco
  • Asia-Temperate, Caucasus, Transcaucasus
  • Asia-Temperate, China
  • Asia-Temperate, Eastern Asia, Japan
  • Asia-Temperate, Eastern Asia, Korea
  • Asia-Temperate, Western Asia, Lebanon-Syria
  • Asia-Temperate, Western Asia, Turkey
  • Asia-Tropical, Indian Subcontinent, India
  • Asia-Tropical, Indian Subcontinent, Nepal
  • Asia-Tropical, Indian Subcontinent, Pakistan
  • Asia-Tropical, Indo-China, Myanmar
  • Asia-Tropical, Indo-China, Vietnam
  • Europe, Eastern Europe, Baltic States
  • Europe, Eastern Europe, Belarus
  • Europe, Eastern Europe, Ukraine
  • Europe, Middle Europe, Austria
  • Europe, Middle Europe, Belgium
  • Europe, Middle Europe, Germany
  • Europe, Middle Europe, Hungary
  • Europe, Middle Europe, Netherlands
  • Europe, Middle Europe, Poland
  • Europe, Middle Europe, Slovakia
  • Europe, Middle Europe, Switzerland
  • Europe, Northern Europe, Denmark
  • Europe, Northern Europe, Great Britain
  • Europe, Northern Europe, Ireland
  • Europe, Northern Europe, Norway
  • Europe, Northern Europe, Sweden
  • Europe, Southeastern Europe, Albania
  • Europe, Southeastern Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Europe, Southeastern Europe, Bulgaria
  • Europe, Southeastern Europe, Czech Republic
  • Europe, Southeastern Europe, Greece
  • Europe, Southeastern Europe, Italy
  • Europe, Southeastern Europe, Romania
  • Europe, Southeastern Europe, Yugoslavia
  • Europe, Southwestern Europe, France
  • Europe, Southwestern Europe, Portugal
  • Europe, Southwestern Europe, Spain

Viscum album L.

Family: SANTALACEAE
Genus: Viscum
Species: album L.
Common names: Mistletoe; All-heal
Pharmacopoeia Londinensis name: Viscus
Distribution summary: N Africa, W Asia & Europe
Habit: Shrub
Hardiness: H4 - Hardy; average winter
Habitat: Grows on branches of Oak, Apple, Chestnut and Birch trees
Garden status: Currently grown
Garden location: Pharmacopoeia Londinensis 1618 'Fruit' (HSE 4B)
Flowering months: February, March, April
Reason for growing: Medicinal, toxic


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