You must remember this

If you ever saw mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe – don’t worry – it was probably just your dad in a Santa suit.

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe comes from pagan rituals practiced by the ancient druids of Europe. They regarded the parasitic plant with high esteem, built alters festooned with mistletoe, and did a lot more than just kissing underneath it. But when the party was over, their healers (who called the plant “all heal”) put this botanical to good use in treating a variety of health problems, such as headaches; lung diseases; epilepsy; internal bleeding; nervous conditions and tumors.

Lay off the berries

In the early 20th century, a naturalist named Rudolf Steiner developed extracts of mistletoe for injection, paving the way for studies that explored the use of mistletoe in the treatment of cancer. Last year, after Suzanne Somers announced she was choosing to treat her breast cancer with this plant, I sent you an e-Alert (“Celebrity’s Cancer Treatment is ‘Right On'” 6/7/01) detailing studies that show how mistletoe may play an important part in the future of cancer treatments.

But like the druids, modern naturopaths use mistletoe for a wide range of health issues. Iscador is the trade name for the extract taken from the leaves and flowers of mistletoe (but never the white berries, which are highly toxic). Some preliminary studies show that Iscador may stimulate insulin production and improve blood sugar levels for diabetics. Injections of Iscador extract have also been shown to boost immune system function, although injectable forms are illegal in the U.S. at this time, pending FDA approval.

As always, of course, it’s a good idea to consult your health care provider before beginning any remedy, natural or otherwise. In this case, since the remedy is considered somewhat controversial, your regular doctor may not be familiar with its use. To locate a doctor who can provide specific recommendations about Iscador, contact the American College for the Advancement of Medicine (800-532-3688).

All of the healing benefits of Iscador come from mistletoe grown in northern Europe, Korea and China. Those sprigs you hang over doorways at this time of year are almost certainly the American species of mistletoe. Apparently they’re of lesser medicinal value, but they’re still quite effective in helping Santa coax a smooch out of your mom.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute