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Least Viewed Herbs

Finocchio
Southernwood
(archangelica Officinalis Hoffm)
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Poppy
Bluebell (wild Hyacinth)
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House Leek (crassulaceoe)



Mistletoe








The Mistletoe, which we all associate so happily with the festivities
of Christmas, is an evergreen parasite, growing on the branches of
deciduous trees, and penetrating with simple roots through the bark
into the wood. It belongs to the Loranthaceoe, and has the
botanical name of Viscum, or sticky, because of its glutinous
juices. The Mistletoe contains mucilage, sugar, a fixed oil, resin, an
odorous principle, some tannin, and various salts. Its most
interesting constituent is the viscin, or bird glue, which is mainly
developed by fermentation, and becomes a yellowish, sticky,
resinous mass, such as can be used with success as a bird-lime.

The dried young twigs, and the leaves, are chiefly the medicinal
parts, though young children have been attacked with convulsions
after eating freely of the berries.

The name (in Anglo-Saxon, Mistiltan) is derived, says Dr. Prior,
from mistil, different, and tan, a twig, [346] because so
unlike the tree it grows upon; or, perhaps, mist may refer to
excrement, and the adjective, viscum, bear some collateral
reference to viscera, entrails. Probably our viscum plant differs
from that of the Latin writers in their accounts of the Druids, which
would be the Loranthus growing on the Quercus pubescens (an
oak indigenous to the south of France). They knew it by a name
answering to all-heal. It is of a larger and thicker sort than our
common Mistletoe, which, however, possesses the same virtues in a
lesser degree. The Germans call the plant Vogellein, and the
French Gui, which is probably Celtic.

The plant is given powdered, or as an infusion, or made into a
tincture (H.) with spirit of wine. From ten to sixty grains of the
powder may be taken for a dose, or a decoction may be made by
boiling two ounces of the bruised plant with half-a-pint of water,
and giving one tablespoonful for a dose several times in the day; or
from five to ten drops of the tincture (which is prepared almost
exclusively by the homoeopathic chemists) are a dose, with one or
two tablespoonfuls of cold water.

Sir John Colebatch published in 1720 a pamphlet, on The
Treatment of Epilepsy by Mistletoe, regarding it, and with much
justice, as a specific. He procured the parasite from the lime trees at
Hampton Court. The powdered leaves were ordered to be given (in
black cherry water), as much of these as will lie on a sixpence every
morning.

Sir John says, This beautiful plant must have been designed by the
Almighty for further and more noble purposes than barely to feed
thrushes, or to be hung up superstitiously in houses to drive away
evil spirits. His treatise was entitled, A Dissertation concerning
the Misseltoe--A most wonderful Specifick Remedy for the Cure of
Convulsive Distempers. The physiological effect of the [347] plant
is that of lessening, and temporarily benumbing such nervous action
as is reflected to distant organs of the body from some central organ
which is the actual seat of trouble. In this way the spasms of
epilepsy and of other convulsive distempers, are allayed. Large
doses of the plant, or of its berries, would, on the contrary,
aggravate these convulsive disorders.

In a French Recueil de Remedes domestiques, 1682, Avec
privilege du Roy, we read, de l'epilepsie: Il est certain que contre
ce deplorable mal le veritable Guy de Chene (Mistletoe) est un
remede excellent, curatif, preservatif, et qui soulage beaucoup dans
l'accident. Il le faut secher au four apres qu'on aura tire le pain: le
mettre en poudre fort subtile; passer cette poudre par un tamis de
foye, et la conserver pour le besoin. Il faut prendre les poids dun ecu
d'or de cette poudre chaque matin dans vin blanc tous les trois
derniers jours de la lune vieille. Il est encore bon que la personne
affligee de ce mal porte toujours un morceau de Guy de Chene
pendu a son col; mais ce morceau doit etre toujours frais, et sans
avoir ete mis au four. The active part of the plant is its resin
(viscin), which is yielded to spirit of wine in making a tincture.
This is prepared (H.) with proof spirit from the leaves and ripe
berries of our Mistletoe in equal quantities, but it is difficult of
manufacture owing to the viscidity of the sap. A special process is
employed of passing the material twice through a sausage machine,
and then mixing the mass with powdered glass before its percolation
with the spirit. A trituration made from the leaves, berries, and
tender twigs, is given for epilepsy, in doses of twenty grains, twice
or three times a day.

Nowadays the berries are taken by country people when finding
themselves troubled with severe stitches, [348] and they obtain
almost instantaneous relief. In accordance with which experience
Johnson says it was creditably reported to him, That a few of the
berries of the Misseltoe, bruised and strained into oyle and drunken,
hath presently and forthwith rid a grievous and sore stitch. The
tincture, moreover, is put to a modern use as a heart tonic in place of
the foxglove. It lessens reflex irritability, and strengthens the
heart's beat, whilst raising the frequency of a slow pulse. Dr. J.
Wilde has shown that the Mistletoe possesses a high repute in rural
Hampshire for the cure of St. Vitus's dance, and similar spasmodic
nervous complaints. In the United States the leaves have been
successfully employed as an infusion to check female fluxes, and
haemorrhages, also to hasten childbirth by stimulating the womb when
labour is protracted to the exhaustion of the mother. In Scotland
the plant is almost unknown, and is restricted to one locality only.

The Druids regarded the Mistletoe as the soul of their sacred tree--
the oak; and they taught the people to believe that oaks on which it
was seen growing were to be respected, because of the wonderful
cures which the priests were then able to effect with it, particularly
of the falling sickness. The parasite was cut from the tree with a
golden sickle at a high and solemn festival, using much ceremonial
display, it being then credited with a special power of giving
fertility to all animals. Ovid said, Ad viscum cantare Druidoe
solebant.

Shakespeare calls it The baleful Mistletoe, in allusion to the
Scandinavian legend, that Balder, the god of peace, was slain with
an arrow made of Mistletoe. He was restored to life at the request of
the other gods and goddesses. The mistletoe was afterwards given to
[349] be kept by the goddess of love; and it was ordained in
Olympus that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss, to
show that the branch was the emblem of love, and not of death.

Persons in Sweden afflicted with epilepsy carry with them a
knife having a handle of oak mistletoe, which plant they call
Thunder-besom, connecting it with lightning and fire. The thrush is
the great disseminator of the parasite. He devours the berries
eagerly, and soils, or missels his feet with their viscid seeds,
conveying them thus from tree to tree, and getting thence the name
of missel thrush.

In Brittany the plant is named Herbe de la croix, and, because the
crucifix was made from its wood when a tree, it is thought to have
become degraded to a parasite.

When Norwood, in Surrey, was really a forest the Mistletoe grew
there on the oak, and, being held as medicinal, it was abstracted for
apothecaries in London. But the men who meddled with it were said
to become lame, or to fall blind with an eye, and a rash fellow who
ventured to cut down the oak itself broke his leg very shortly
afterwards. One teaspoonful of the dried leaves, in powder, from the
appletree Mistletoe, taken in acidulated water twice a day, will cure
chronic giddiness. Sculptured sprays and berries, with leaves of
Mistletoe, fill the spandrils of the tomb of one of the Berkeleys in
Bristol Cathedral--a very rare adornment, because for some
unknown reason the parasite has been always excluded from the
decorations of churches. In some districts it is called Devil's-fuge,
also the Spectre's Wand, from a belief that with due incantations a
branch held in the hand will compel the appearance of a spectre, and
require it to speak.





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