Mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum)
Mistletoes are a group of vascular, flowering plants that parasitize stems of trees and
shrubs. There are 700-1400 species (depending who you ask) of mistletoe worldwide found in
and Loranthaceae families, located mainly in tropical and subtropical regions of the
world. Even the family has several synonyms. Renamed by our
own Dr. James Reveal as Phoradendron leucarpum (Johnston and Reveal), American
mistletoe was previously know as P. serotinum, P. flavescens. Phoradendron has a
distribution and is found in the US from New Jersey to Florida to Texas. It has a broad
host range and parasitizes mostly hardwoods.
The plant is able to produce its own chlorophyll (a hemiparasite), but depends on
out-competing its host for nutrients from the host xylem tissue . The flower structure is reduced and primitive in appearance. It uses an
endophytic system to penetrate through the cambial region of its host. Birds eat the
fruit, dispersing the seeds to other tree limbs. A sticky viscin layer on the
seed allows it to adhere to the branch. The seed germinates and develops an adhesive disk.
As the haustorium (root like
structure) develops in the host cambium, the aerial portions of the plant grow slowly.
Shoots are usually visible the second year. Once the endophytic system becomes
established, the plant grows quickly. Since the leaves stay green all year, once leaf fall
takes place, it is easy to spot balls of mistletoe high up in hardwoods.
HISTORICAL PLANT USE
Druids and many cultures in the British Isles, France and Germany used mistletoe
medicinally for convulsions, delirium, hysteria, neuralgia, and heart conditions. This is
certainly in keeping with the believe with its ability to protect and to open other worlds
for the user. It was known at the time that if children ingested the berries they often
experienced convulsions, considered a homeopathic indicator for its use. Anthrposophical medicine
introduced Iscador, a remedy
used in Germany to this day for patients suffering from cancer. It was believed to be
tumor inhibiting, and to increase the number of killer cells of the immune system.
Native American use of Phoradendron was similar to the Druid use of Viscum. Cherokee
tribes used a "Tea ooze" to bathe the head for a headache, an infusion of the
plant for high blood pressure, and lung problems, the dried, powdered plant, particular
from the oak, for epilepsy, and to cure "love sickness", an infusion was taken
after four days of vomiting. Houma tribes used the decoction of the plant for debility and
paralytic weakness, and as a general panacea (Moerman).
Today compounds have been isolated and identified as having specific biological activity:
Several investigators have studied the effect of mistletoe crude extracts on blood
circulation. A protein was isolated, viscotoxin from Viscum alba, or
European mistletoe, and phoratoxin from Phoradendron serotinum. One main
protein and small amounts of two other proteins, all given the name Phoratoxin, decreased
the contractile force of the heart and produced bradycardia (slow heart rate). It took
larger doses of Phoratoxin to have the same effect as Viscotoxin (Rosell
& Samuelson, 1966).
Recent research on human patients, proved that a mistletoe plant extract---a small
nontoxic dose of galactose-specific lectin activated non-specific immune defense responses
and increased the plasma B-endorphin levels, improving quality of life for patients
undergoing chemo and radiation therapy.
A RECENT EXPERIMENT
- Two German investigators (Heiny & Beuth, 1994), enrolled 68
patients with histologically verified breast carcinoma (TNM stages III-IV) that had been
surgically treated and hospitalized for chemotherapy. Using standardized
galactoside-specific mistletoe (ML-1) lectin isolated from the European mistletoe Viscum
alba, subcutaneous treatments were administered for twelve weeks. Peripheral blood was
drawn from cubital veins to analyze Beta- endorphin plasma levels, lymphocyte
subpopulations, and to investigate the in vitro cytokine release at one week
before, six weeks and twelve weeks after ML-1 treatment. Comprable intervals were used for
control group chemotherapy patients.
- In the control group Beta-endorphin levels were less than before the ML-1 treatment
began after both six and twelve week intervals. Among the responders of those treated with
ML-1 (app. 70%), Beta- endorphin levels were almost twice as high as before treatment
after six weeks and increased slightly from there after twelve weeks.
- Generally, in the control group, plasma lymphocyte counts were lower after six weeks,
and lower still after twelve weeks. The responders in the treatment regimen showed a drop
after six weeks and a slight rise to above six week levels after twelve weeks. The final
count after twelve weeks was higher in the ML-1 treatment group than the control.
- The cytokine measurement showed a slight decrease in the control group and an increase
in the responders of the ML-1 treatment group that was larger in relative size than the
decrease of the control group.
- Heint BM, Beuth J: Mistletoe Extract Standardized for the Galactoside-Specific Lectin
(ML-1) Induces Beta-Endorphin Release and Immunopotentiation in Breast Cancer Patients.
- Anticancer Research 14: 1339-1342 (1994).
- Rosell S, Samuelsson G: Effect of Mistletoe Viscotoxin and Phoratoxin On Blood
- Toxicon 4: 107-110 (1966).