Mistletoe being held by hand in front of blurred chair and stockings

A popular plant indeed!

Mistletoe is a popular plant that is closely associated with the holiday season. It is also connected with love. Countless holiday movies feature couples kissing under the mistletoe. This modern-day tradition likely stems from ancient Greece and its phenomenon has historically been linked with good luck, sacredness, and fertility. In Victorian England, it was thought to be bad luck for a woman to refuse a kiss under the mistletoe. However, times have changed. The tradition has evolved into an affectionate Christmas custom, enabling a couple meeting under the Mistletoe to exchange a kiss should they so desire. The kiss is often perceived as magical and one that brings good fortune to the couple. Awkwardly, a lot of American movies feature mistletoe with red berries. Sorry to burst the bubble, but here’s the truth. American mistletoe is an evergreen plant that boasts white berries. Read on to learn the magic of mistletoe…

Let’s hear the bad news first.

The “holiday” variety of American mistletoe is grown in North America and sold around the world. In addition to having white berries, the plant also typically features white flowers in the spring. While it is indeed attractive, mistletoe is essentially a parasitic shrub. It can sometimes infest trees and cause them harm. Additionally, American mistletoe contains the poisonous ingredient phoratoxin. It is found in all parts of the plant and especially in the leaves. Thus, it is potentially hazardous for humans and pets to ingest parts of the plant. Similarly, the European mistletoe plant is considered toxic. Per WebMD, European mistletoe contains viscotoxins which prevent new cells from forming. This can be dangerous for areas of the body with rapid cellular turnover, such as gastrointestinal tracts. So, ultimately, the plant should not be consumed.

Now here’s the good news!

There are some positive things to know about mistletoe. For example, the berries feed some birds and butterflies. And, in a pinch, mistletoe can provide nectar and pollen for bees. Additionally, some animals and insects have been known to feed on mistletoe plants. Since mistletoe is moderately toxic to canines and humans, it is not recommended for consumption. Though widely considered alternative medicine in some countries, mistletoe has been used for hundreds of years to address medical conditions. In some cases, it is given in the form of an injection. In Europe, mistletoe extract is currently a prescribed cancer therapy for some individuals. Medical researchers are also studying mistletoe as a method of cancer treatment. Since there are side effects and risks, the U.S. FDA has not approved the use of mistletoe extract as a cancer treatment.

A recap

Mistletoe is an attractive plant, even though it’s a parasitic shrub. All parts of the plant may be potentially harmful to humans and some animals if ingested. Despite these negatives, the plant also serves decent purposes. Mistletoe can provide pollen for bees. Additionally, its berries can help birds and butterflies. And there is hope that someday it may be safely and more widely used as medical treatment.  Mistletoe remains a delightful holiday plant that is steeped in tradition. The magic of mistletoe is perhaps best evident in its romantic symbolism. Hung in homes across America, the plant not only serves as a symbol of good luck and love, but it promotes cheer throughout the holiday season.

Please note that should your pet consume mistletoe, contact your veterinarian promptly.

If you like this article and you’re interested in learning about another favorite holiday, the Poinsettia, please click here

This article is purely informational and is not intended as a scientific or medical article.

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