The use of poisonous plants within medicinal and spiritual practices can be found across all cultures and within many traditions. Herbs such as belladonna, hemlock, mistletoe, mandrake, and wolfsbane are all classified by the FDA as toxic, poisonous, harmful, and even deadly. Learning the temperament and condition each plant required for medicinal use becomes daunting. Whether you are a patient or a practitioner, the pressure is on.
Plants of poisonous properties can heal and relieve conditions where other herbs fall short. This is what gives them their value. Not to mention the ceremonial and spiritual uses acclaimed to these powerful herbs. In this blog, we will be discovering the lively and dangerous personalities of each plant along the poisonous path.
Mistletoe- Viscum Album
Mistletoe, or more specifically Viscum Album-as known in Latin, is actually a Hemi-Parasitic plant that grows on and in other trees. This plant is one of nine parasitic plants so far discovered. Its infection spreads throughout the northern hemisphere, dominantly in Europe and North America, and can be found growing on just about every kind of tree. Mistletoe grows most commonly on apricot, oak, and hickory trees.
These unfortunate hosts experience cancer-like afflictions and are left with no natural defenses to ward off the mistletoe. Yet this parasite is not usually the cause of death. Instead, mistletoe will spread throughout the limbs of a tree, multiplying until the host is not able to support another. Of course, this leaves the tree without any reserve and often a lack of nutrients which ultimately gives way to the tree's vulnerable demise.
Mistletoe’s discovery and herbal use are credited to the Indo-European Peoples of Germanic, Scandinavian, and Celtic origin, whose spiritual leaders known as the Druids, would collect mistletoe in great ceremonies. Mistletoe was seen as an otherworldly symbol for divinity. This is because mistletoe grows between heaven and earth, not quite a part of one realm or the other. The Druids would use mistletoe for all sorts of ailments, as its Gaelic name is Uil-Ioc, meaning “all-heal.”
Mistletoe Medicinal Use
Herbalists today use mistletoe for its properties as a cardiac hypertensive nervine and sedative nervine herb. It is recommended mistletoe be used in small amounts accompanied by a blend of sedative nervines. This is because mistletoe is best used to enhance the potency of other herbs such as passionflower, lemon balm, and skullcap. This herb is not appropriate to use as a standalone solution for hypertension or sleep disorders, its temperaments are too dynamic.
Mistletoe is also an oxytocic herb, meaning it can be used to induce strong and frequent contractions during labor. And only after other methods have been proven without benefit, will mistletoe injections be considered.
The use of mistletoe requires controlled doses and continual regulation. Something an experienced herbal consultant or naturopathic physician can attend to. There have been reports of mistletoe causing death in children as well as small pets when taken internally. Mistletoe has also been observed causing an adverse side effect when taken with blood pressure prescriptions. Resulting in a sudden drop of blood pressure severe enough to send someone into critical condition.
Today western medicine continues to study mistletoe for a range of potential cancer treatments. Mistletoe cell growth is similar to tumorous cancer cells, and when introduced to cancerous cells, mistletoe injections were able to destroy and cut off tumorous cells from the blood supply. Meaning mistletoe can prevent cancer cells from growing and or spreading throughout the body. However these results have only been observed in test tubes and Petri dishes, we have yet to see mistletoe’s cancer-fighting abilities within a living human being.
Druids and the Winter Solstice Mistletoe Rituals.
During the Indo-European Era, there existed a social class within the Celtic, Germanic, and Scandinavian tribes. They were known as the Druids, a name which means "Oak-Knower." They lived in worship to nature and passed on their wisdom from generation to generation through oral tradition. Much like the indigenous cultures of North America, the Druids lived according to nature, not separate from it. They were Pagans and Animists whose traditions and lifestyles have largely been lost to us.
What little we know about the Druids comes from the accounts of Roman Scholars, and some tribal ruins left behind. The Romans studied the Indo-European Peoples only to overcome their lands and eradicate their cultures. One of these Roman accounts describes the ceremonial harvest of mistletoe during the winter solstice. The Druids dressed all in white, and with a golden sickle would harvest the mistletoe in great ceremony. Care was taken to see that the plant never touched the ground. To give thanks, the Druids would offer animal sacrifices at the foot of the tree in which the mistletoe grew.
Because this plant seemed to grow suspended between heaven and earth, it's been considered otherworldly, and a gift from the goddess Frigga. As such, mistletoe represents incarnation, beginnings, and love - all qualities of the goddess Frigga of Norse and Pagan mythology. The symbolism of mistletoe was appropriated into Christian churches during the downfall of the Roman Catholic empire, and as a result, we still kiss under the mistletoe in hopes of love everlasting.
The next time you find yourself under the mistletoe, I hope you think of the Druids, and more importantly, children and small animals who might put a fallen leaf or berry in their mouth. Happy holidays and thank you for joining us on the poisonous path this month. As we continue down this path, take caution. You never know what poisons might be hanging around us.