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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