Also see Hool, 1918: Mistletoe.
Although the subject of this notice does not really come under "Common Plants," the familiarity of the shrub at the season of Christmas, when it is extensively used for decorative purposes and as osculation bushes, must serve as my apology for introducing it.
It is commonly supposed that the above uses are all that the Mistletoe can be put to, but many botanists know by practical experience what grand medicinal properties it contains, and do not accept as superstition what the Druids claimed for it in days gone by when they professed to make wonderful cures by its agency, calling it in their language "All-Heal."
Mistletoe is an Anglo-Saxon name, which means a tine or prong, the Latin name being Viscum Album. It is a genus of small parisitical shrubs or plants of the Natural Order. Loranthaceae; sexual system, class 22, Dioecia; Order 4, Tetrandia.
It is a dicotyledonous plant with growth known as exogenous. The leaves are entire, almost nerveless, thick and fleshy, and without stipules. The flowers of many species are showy and attractive. The Calyx arises from a tribe or line which sometimes assumes the appearance of a Corolla and is so regarded by many botanists. It contains from four to eight petals divided in segments, within which are the stamens as numerous as its divisions and opposite to them. The ovary is one-celled, with a solitary ovule; the fruit one-seeded, and generally succulent.
There are more than 400 known species, mostly tropical, the Mistletoe proper being a native of Europe. All are parasites— i.e., they must have some other plant on which to take root and from which to receive nourishment. The growth of the plant is slow and its duration proportionately great, its death being determined generally by that of the tree on which it has established itself.
Our only British species of this order is the common Mistletoe, growing on many kinds of trees, but particularly on the apple, and others botanically allied to it, such as the pear, service tree, and hawthorn; sometimes on sycamores, plain trees, limes, poplars, firs, and oak trees.
It Is dioecious—i.e., it has male and female flowers on separate plants, like the Willow. The stems are dichotomous, the leaves opposite each other, being generally at the ends of the branches; they are of a yellowish green colour—obvate (inversely egg-shaped), lanceolate (oblong and narrow, tapering towards each end), and obtuse (blunt, rounded at the end).
The flowers, which appear in February and March, are inconspicuous, and grow in small heads at the ends and in the divisions of the branches. The berries are white, about the size of a white currant, translucent, and full of a very viscid juice (from which bird lime is derived).
The fruit is eaten by most frugivorous birds, and through their agency, particularly that of the thrush (hence missel-thrush or mistle-thrush) the plant is propagated. The radical or root leaves always turn towards the branches on which they grow, whether on the upper or lower side.
The Mistletoe derives its nourishment from the living tissue of the tree on which it grows, and from which it seems to spring as if it were one of its own branches.
Mistletoe is very plentiful in some parts of the South of England (in the Northern parts it is evidently too cold), its evergreen leaves giving a peculiar appearance to the orchards in winter, when the bushes of the Viscum Album are very conspicuous among the naked branches of the trees. The bunches extensively used at Christmas-tide are, however, largely derived from the apple orchards of Normandy.
The principles of Viscum Album, or Mistletoe, are four in number, viz.: Resin, resinoid, alkaloid and acid with sulphur, but the acid varies according to the tree on which it grows. If grown on the apple or service tree it possesses malic acid; if on the oak, hawthorn, poplar, blackthorn or sycamore, tannic acid; if on the lime, citric acid; and if on fir trees, a substance nearly like turpentine.
Its properties are nervine, tonic, diuretic, anti-spasmodic, slightly narcotic, sedative, astringent, and anti-scorbutic.
It is employed in convulsions, chorea, delirium, hysteria, neuralgia, nervous debility, urinary disorders, heart disease, and many other complaints arising from a weakened or disordered state of the nervous system.
As a nervine tonic I value Mistletoe as superior to all other remedies I have come in contact with. It is now about 35 years since I first made use of it in cases of nervous complaints, and during that time I have had many opportunities of noting the results which have accrued from its employment. Where the decoction of Mistletoe is given in from one or two teaspoonfuls to one wineglassful, according to the age of the patient, and the severity of the case, every one, two, or three hours, particularly in fits, epilepsy, and St. Vitus' dance, it will be found that it soon soothes and quiets the irritability of the nervous system, at the same time giving tone and regularity of action, diminishing cerebral excitement, abating delirium, and controlling febrile excitement; exciting diaphoresis and diuresis, and accomplishing its work without any subsequent unpleasant reaction.
The whole plant is used, gathered while in full berry. It was popularly supposed that the Mistletoe growing upon the oak was of greater efficacy as a medicine than that growing elsewhere, but in actual practice it is found that no difference whatever exists between that growing upon this particular tree and that derived from any other source of growth.
As the properties of Mistletoe by exposure to the air become considerably impaired, it should always, after drying, be preserved in as air-tight a condition as possible.
Should anyone reading these lines be suffering, or have friends suffering from any kind of. nervous disease, let him give this remedy a trial, and he will not be disappointed. An extremely useful medicine for all kinds of nervous complaints is made by taking—
Valerian, 1/2 oz.
Mistletoe, 1/2 oz.
Vervain 1/2 oz.
Boil in 1 1/2 pints of water for 10 minutes and take cold 2 tablespoonsful two or three times a day. In case of debility of the digestive organs three or four cayenne pods may be added with propriety and benefit.
The treatment of the faculty in diseases of the nervous system is to saturate the body with bromides, which, instead of building up the nerves, kills them. I am among those who believe that a benign and all-wise Creator has endowed the earth with inexhaustible resources wherewith to meet the necessities of His children, and those of a kind ever conservative to the integrity and duration of the objects upon which they are employed. It is in this light that I look upon the Mistletoe and kindred remedies, believing that all remedial agents should be conservative and never destructive in their influences. A better knowledge of such means is being opened up by the progressive enlightenment of the human mind, and the profession are beginning to understand and appreciate the nearer compatibility of organic medicines with the functions of organic life.
Common Plants and their Uses in Medicine was written by Richard Lawrence Hool, F.N.A.M.H., in 1922.