Not to be a scrooge, but at this time of the year it’s worthwhile to review the safety of mistletoe.

Mistletoe is the common name for a group of hemi-parasitic plants that grow attached to and within the branches of a shrub or a tree such as apple, oak, and elm.

  • Wikipedia has more information about the lifecycle of mistletoe.
  • It has been used since ancient times to treat many ailments
  • Mistletoe was used by the Druids and the ancient Greeks, and appears in legend and folklore as a panacea or “cure-all”.
  • Modern interest in mistletoe as a possible treatment for cancer began in the 1920s.
  • Extracts of mistletoe have been shown to kill cancer cells

Now, the cautions as listed by the National Cancer Institute.
Mistletoe extract

  • Very few bad side effects have been reported from the use of mistletoe extract products.
  • Common side effects include soreness and inflammation at injection sites, headache, fever, and chills.
  • A few cases of severe allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock, have been reported.

Mistletoe plants and berries

  • They are poisonous to humans.
  • Side effects caused by eating mistletoe plants and berries include seizures, slowing of the heart rate, abnormal blood pressure, vomiting, and death.
  • The severity of the side effect depends on the amount and the type of mistletoe plant eaten.

The bottom line?
Have a merry Christmas and happy holiday.

12/23/08 21:04 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.