Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Mistletoe not just for Kissing
This traditional Christmas decoration is also a medicinal herb. Mistletoe extracts have been extensively studied in Europe as a supplemental treatment in cancer therapy.
The herb was used historically in Old Europe for treatment of epilepsy and other convulsive nervous disorders, and was used extensively in the 16th and 17th centurys. Mistletoe is a nervine, and a narcotic, that is, it has a profound effect on the nervous system. Eating the berries can cause convulsions in children. Herbalists use Mistletoe Phoradendron flavescens teas slow the pulse and lower blood pressure, treat arthritic pain and snoring. There are valuable medicinal uses for this herb, but there are also much safer, and less toxic choices to treat the same conditions available to the home herbalist. It may be best to enjoy mistletoe's tradition of decorating our homes in the winter season, and reflecting on it's legendary promise of the return of new life in the spring.
Kissing under the mistletoe is one of the most widely known holiday traditions. Some trace this custom to the Greek who used mistletoe in the Saturnalia festival. Mistletoe also figures in a Scandinavian legend of Balder, god of Peace, who was slain with an arrow of mistletoe. He was restored to life, and mistletoe was then given into the keeping of the goddess of Love, and it was ordained that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss, to show that the branch had become an emblem of love, and not of hate. Druids sent round their attendant youth with branches of the Mistletoe to announce the entrance of the new year. It is probable that the custom of including it in the decoration of our homes at Christmas, giving it a special place of honour, is a survival of this old custom.