Eating one or a few berries is unlikely to cause sickness or death. There are several species of mistletoe, including Viscum album (European mistletoe) and Viscum album coloratum (Korean […] Dr. Helmenstine holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and is a science writer, educator, and consultant. All are hemiparasitic plants that grow on host trees, such as oak and pine. This plant has paired, oval leaves and yellow-green flowers. European mistletoe ingestion has caused cases of poisonings and sometimes deaths. ...mistletoe is a hemi-parasitic plant, living on various kinds of trees? Viscum album is a species of mistletoe in the family Santalaceae, commonly known as European mistletoe, common mistletoe or simply as mistletoe (Old English mistle). A liquid extract containing key medicinal components of the mistletoe plant has also been used for decades to treat cancer, mainly in Europe and parts of Asia. Out of the two most common varieties of mistletoe, it’s the European (Viscum album) that is actually a poisonous plant. As a parasitic plant, it grows on the branches or trunk of a tree and actually sends out roots that penetrate into the tree and take up nutrients. Mistletoe is used to treat high blood pressure and cancer. Another study of 92 cases reported to poison control centers revealed no cases of death, even though up to 20 berries and 5 leaves were eaten. (The plants aren’t poisonous to chickens, of course.) It appears that American Phoradendron mistletoe is less toxic than the European species Viscum album. Mistletoe toxicity is unusual in cattle. The Viscum species of mistletoe contain a slightly different cocktail of chemicals, including the poisonous alkaloid tyramine, which produce essentially the same symptoms. Their parasitic lifestyle has led to some dramatic changes in their metabolism. European mistletoe ingestion has caused cases of poisonings and sometimes deaths. That being said, the average healthy adult can tolerate a few berries. Pretty poison. The answer is that the risk of poisoning depends on the type of mistletoe and what part of the plant is eaten. However, anaphylactic reactions are known, so it's important to watch for indications of a reaction to the plant. European mistletoe (Viscum album) as well as American mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) are both evergreen parasitic perennials with white or translucent berries, that grow on the trunks and branches of deciduous trees. The leaves and berries contain the highest concentration of toxic chemicals. Injectable mistletoe extract is widely used in Europe but is n… In folk medicine, it has been used for its cardiovascular properties. For the purists out there, most of what you can buy in the way of live mistletoe is the European species (Viscum album) which would have been the species favored by those dancing Druids. It is popular at Christmas due to its association with kissing under the mistletoe. By using ThoughtCo, you accept our, How the Sixth Mass Extinction Affects the U.S. Economy, Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, B.A., Physics and Mathematics, Hastings College. But, the European mistletoe is more poisonous than its American counterpart Mistletoe Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of the leaves of the plant Were they just lucky or is it okay to eat a few berries? A study of 1754 American mistletoe exposures revealed none resulted in death, even though 92% of the cases involved children. Is Mistletoe Poisonous? The plant is known to be mildly toxic in nature. They are common holiday symbols sold frequently during the winter holiday season. Mistletoe plants, both American and European, contain toxins that are damaging to the cell structure. Maximum height – 1 m The European variety has a documented history of being highly poisonous to humans and pets. Clinical efficacy has not been established. Further study is needed. In the USA, the FDA has not approved the use of mistletoe. The pods are tiny, irregular berries, white to yellow in color. Mistletoe is an angiosperm, living as a hemi-parasite on other plants. There is particular confusion sometimes in North America, where local mistletoe species (especially Phoradendron) may be significantly more poisonous than our European variety. The poisonous qualities of mistletoe have not been conclusively proven; only larger quantities are … In the wild, the two varieties of mistletoe most often hung at Christmas both parasitize deciduous trees. For the most part, mistletoe therapies are used in healthy adults, although there are reports of successful use in pediatric patients. It may also decrease side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. The European variety of mistletoe has oval leaves and small clumps of 2-5 white berries. With over 1500 varieties of Mistletoe in the world, some are more toxic than others. Because of its vampiric tendencies, … It can grow on deciduous or coniferous trees, dependent on the subspecies. Mistletoe isn’t known to kill humans, but it can cause drowsiness, blurred vision, vomiting, and even seizures. Aside from its parasitic nature, every part of the plant is poisonous when ingested, particularly that of the European variant of the plant. Is mistletoe really poisonous? Basic information: But the plant also is important to … The risk of poisoning is higher for children and particularly for pets. The Phoradendron species contain a toxin called phoratoxin, which can cause blurred vision, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood pressure changes, and even death. Mistletoes contain glycoprotein lectins that can inhibit protein synthesis, leading to cell death; although these lectins are of the same class as the very toxic ricin found in castor beans (Ricinus communis), the lectins in Phoradendron are much less toxic. But the other side of this botanical coin is all species of mistletoe are poisonous. European Mistletoe - Viscum album - image is under CC-BY-SA, from The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Mistletoe in crown of tree - image is under CC-BY-NC-SA, from Malcolm Storey. Locally common in the UK, European Mistletoe as it name suggests is the only Mistletoe species native to Great Britain and Europe. While mistletoe is not used in the United States, an injectable form of the plant is available in Europe as an adjuvant cancer therapy. Berries from this holiday plant contain polysaccharides, alkaloids, and lectins. There are two general types of poisonous mistletoe that are sold for Christmas. 1 Phoratoxins and ligatoxin A found in mistletoe are small proteins that can act as cardiac depressants, causing hypotension, bradycardia, and decreased … However, its use is not approved by the FDA. The leaves and berries contain the highest concentration of dangerous chemicals. It uses its special root-like organs (haustoria) to steal nutrients, water and minerals from its host. However, American mistletoe isn't as toxic. Although mistletoe can be dangerous, it also has therapeutic uses. A study of 1754 American mistletoe exposures revealed none resulted in death, even though 92% of the cases involved children. It can grow on deciduous or coniferous trees, dependent on the subspecies. The plant is not recommended for patients who have leukemia, brain tumors, or malignant lymphoma or for lactating or pregnant women. ThoughtCo uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. These berries, and those of other mistletoes, contain toxic compounds poisonous to many animals and to humans. When accidentally ingested by our pets, mistletoe poisoning can result in mild signs of gastrointestinal … Most adults can eat a few berries without harm, but children and pets are at risk of poisoning. It has a significant role in European mythology, legends, and customs. Ingesting the leaves or berries of European mistletoe can cause vomiting, difficulty breathing, shock and even death . Do remember that this site is mostly about European Mistletoe, Viscum album, and any medical issues described relate to that species only. Alternatively, drinking a tea from the plant can result in sickness and possibly death. ...the custom of kissing under mistletoe was brought to Germany by British mercenaries? All parts of the plant are toxic (that’s berries, stem and leaves). The literature on the European variety includes reports of serious poisonings and deaths, usually due to excessive concentrated herbal use such as brewing mistletoe in tea. European mistletoe, like man… All of them produce toxic compounds. Mistletoe tea and berries made in tea may be used to treat hypertension at a dose of 10 g/day. A well known parasitic evergreens for its supposed medicinal and perceived magical properties. ...the substance viscin, extracted from mistletoe sap was used to trap birds, due to its sticky property (birdlime). Mistletoe has been used to treat cancer, although there is a lack of quality clinical trials and little evidence of an effect. Enter Phoradendron serotinum, otherwise known as Eastern Mistletoe — which does grow wild in North America. Mistletoe is also used in veterinary herbal medicine. American mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescen) is the type that grows in the United States and is used as a romantic holiday decoration, while European mistletoe (Viscum album) is the species that has been used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine. The berry, leaf, and stem of European mistletoe are used to make medicine. The leaves and berries contain the highest concentration of toxic chemicals. Avoid consuming raw mistletoe of any variety, as it can be poisonous and induce vomiting, seizures, slowed heart rate and even death. Discover surprising insights and little-known facts about politics, literature, science, and the marvels of the natural world. Mistletoe is poisonous Eating any part of the plant can cause drowsiness, blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weakness and seizures. Only European mistletoe can be used therapeutically, as American mistletoe is unsafe. But mistletoe is also capable for growing on its own; like other plants it can produce its own food by photosynthesis. The American mistletoe is less toxic than the European varieties of it. Consumption of a large number of berries is extremely dangerous and warrants a call to Poison Control. Mistletoe, however, is more commonly found growing as a parasitic pla… Mistletoe IS poisonous, although it is doubtful as to whether it will actually cause death. Check your species! The European variety is Viscum album and the common mistletoe in the US is Phoradendron serotinum. Type of poison – polypeptides. The plant has been used medicinally in Europe for hundreds of years to treat arthritis, high blood pressure, epilepsy, and infertility. This entry only refers to poisoning from the ingestion of plant material from Viscum album and not Phoradendron tomentosum. The symptoms are caused by a … Many of the other mistletoe species live in tropical and subtropical climates in different parts of the world. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels. Several species of mistletoe contain poisonous ingredients called phoratoxin and viscotoxin which, if consumed, can cause drowsiness, blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weakness and even seizures — a bit like eggnog, only worse. Yes it is, but only in excess. European mistletoe is missing crucial components of its electron transport chain, leading researchers to conclude that mistletoe steals sugar from its host plants instead of making the energy molecule ATP from scratch. Viscum album (European mistletoe) should not to be confused with American mistletoe (Phoradendron tomentosum). The number for Poison Control is 1-800-222-1222. Some studies indicate mistletoe may be useful in treating cancer, although further evidence is needed. 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