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ShrubbySpecies Plant

Viscum album

Viscum album

The common mistletoe (Viscum album L.) is a bushy shrub species belonging to the Viscaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Subarign Tracheobionta,
Spermatophyta superdivision,
Magnoliophyta Division,
Santalales Order,
Viscaceae family,
Genus Viscum,
Species V. album.
The terms are synonymous:
– Viscum alatum Splitg.;
– Viscum alatum Splitg. ex K.Krause;
– Viscum album Thunb.;
– Viscum album var. album;
– Viscum album var. pini (Wiesb.) Tubeuf, 1923;
– Viscum austriacum subsp. pini (Wiesb.) Janch., 1942;
– Viscum austriacum var. pini Wiesb..
Within this species, some subspecies can be recognized which differ in the color of the fruits, the shape and size of the leaves and, of course, in the host trees used.
– Viscum album subsp. abietis (Wiesb.) Abromeit. Central Europe. With white berries. About Abies.
– Viscum album subsp. album. Europe, Southwest Asia to the east as far as Nepal. With white berries; On Malus, Populus, Tilia and less often on numerous other species, including (rarely) Quercus.
– Viscum album subsp. austriacum (Wiesb.) Vollmann. Central Europe. With yellow berries. On Larix, Pinus, Picea.
– Viscum album subsp. meridianum (Danser) D.G. Long. Southeast Asia. With yellow berries. On Acer, Carpinus, Juglans, Prunus, Sorbus.
– Viscum album subsp. creticum. Recently featured on eastern Crete – With white berries. About Pinus brutia.
– Viscum album subsp. coloratum Kom. Described in the Flora of China as a distinct species Viscum coloratum (Kom) Nakai.

Etymology –
The term Viscum comes from viscum, the Latin name of the mistletoe mentioned in Virgil and Pliny, taking it from the Greek ἰξός ixós in Aristarchus and Dioscorides.
The specific album epithet comes from white albus, referring to the flowers, leaves, bark or other parts of the plant. In this case to the fruits.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Mistletoe is a species native to Europe and western and southern Asia and with Eurasian distribution (Europe, including Great Britain, from Scandanavia in the south and east to northern Africa, central Asia and Japan).
It is present, with three subspecies, in all regions of Italy.
Mistletoe is an evergreen epiphytic hemiparasitic plant of numerous host trees, in particular conifers and some broad-leaved trees (eg poplars, willows, maples, birches, lime trees, apple trees, Robinia and more rarely Prunus).
The plant is able to perform photosynthesis, but it needs water, mineral salts and above all nitrogenous compounds obtained by the host through austors that infiltrate its tissues.
Its presence can be noted especially in deciduous woods in winter, when its bushes grown on trunks and branches are highlighted by the loss of the leaves of the plant that hosts them.

Description –
Viscum album is a bushy plant characterized by long stems, 30-100 centimeters, with dichotomous ramifications.
At the base of the main stem, green cords are produced that penetrate inside the host’s bark and generate offshoots that stretch up to the conducting tissue.
The leaves are oblong and leathery, with opposite phyllotaxis, whole, with a leathery consistency, 2-8 cm long, 0.8-2.5 cm broad, yellowish-green in color.
The flowers are unisexual, inconspicuous, carried in glomeruli; the male flowers have no calyx, the female ones have both calyx and corolla.
It is a dioecious species whose flowers are pollinated by insects.
The antesis is in the period of March-May.
The fruit is a globose or ovoid, fleshy berry, of (5) 6-9 (12) mm in diameter, sessile or subsessile, of a pearly-white or glossy green color, with some variations in the different subspecies, with the seeds of 5 -6 mm, with cord-shaped section, flattened on the sides immersed in a viscous pulp.

Cultivation –
Viscum album is an evergreen epiphytic hemiparasitic plant of numerous host trees, with green leaves that indicate the presence of chlorophyll, so this plant is able to perform photosynthesis. To carry out photosynthesis, it removes water, mineral salts and nitrogen from the host plant.
Its berries, transported and dispersed by birds (which feed on them in winter), settle in the cavities of a branch of a host plant and the seeds contained therein begin to germinate. The formation of a small trunk and the development of mistletoe begin through a cone of penetration.
This plant therefore grows on the branches of many trees, in particular poplars, apple trees, chestnuts and birches and especially on calcareous soils.
For propagation consider that, being a parasitic plant that grows entirely on the host tree, to cultivate it it is necessary to obtain berries and crush them on the branches of the host trees in late autumn and early winter, possibly on the underside of the branch , waiting for the plant to carry out the activity of hemiparasite with its organs.
The cultivation of mistletoe is practiced for ornamental purposes and for herbal medicine. After a slow development, which can last up to a couple of years, it will start its spontaneous growth. Usually the host plant is not damaged, as long as there are not too many individuals of mistletoe: in this case, to get rid of it, you will have to cut the branch.

Customs and Traditions –
Mistletoe is a plant known for a long time and to which numerous traditions, legends, literature and various uses are connected.
For the Celtic populations, who called it oloaiacet, it was, together with the oak, considered a sacred plant and a gift from the gods; according to a Nordic legend it kept away misfortunes and diseases. It continues in many countries to be considered a symbol of good luck during the Christmas period: in fact, the custom, originating in the Scandinavian countries, is widespread, to greet the arrival of the new year by kissing under one of its branches. In this regard, the myth of Baldur (told in the Gylfaginning), son of the god Odin and lord of light (therefore superimposable on Christ), who dies killed by a mistletoe wand from which, ideally and symbolically, he comes, as the father Odin is identified with the cosmic tree Yggdrasill on which the mistletoe is born: as happened to Christ through the wood of the cross.
In the VI book of Virgil’s Aeneid (vv. 133-141), where the descent of Aeneas into the afterlife is told, the Cumaean Sibyl orders him to find a “golden branch” (that is, of mistletoe, according to anthropological studies ) which will be necessary to appease the underworld deities during his catabasis. The British anthropologist James Frazer has dedicated a powerful research to this myth.
The juice of the berries was used to prepare glues used in fowling. Some idioms entered into current language refer to this use: a sticky substance or a particularly tedious person can be sticky, while it is not pleasant to be entangled in certain situations.
We also remember that the Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli dedicated a poem to the parasitic nature of this plant, entitled: The mistletoe.
Mistletoe, which for a long time did not play any special role as a medicinal plant, and was almost forgotten by modern medicine, has been placed at the center of a new current of medicine for some decades now; this after Rudolf Steiner indicated it as the basis of a medicine that fights carcinoma in its different forms.
Mistletoe is used in traditional medicine, in the form of tinctures or infusions, as an antihypertensive and anti-arteriosclerotic. There are currently no clinical studies confirming this action.
For these healing properties, mistletoe was used since the peoples of Norse mythology.
Today, mistletoe is one of the most studied alternative and complementary medicine substances for the fight against cancer. Although there is no evidence to support the idea that stimulation of the immune system by mistletoe leads to a better ability to fight cancer, basic research with mistletoe extracts provides many clues for further investigation into the possible mechanisms of mistletoe as a product. support in the entire oncological treatment of the individual patient. Mistletoe extracts have been evaluated in numerous clinical studies and improvements in survival and quality of life have been reported frequently. However, according to some critical reviews, most of the clinical trials conducted to date have had one or more important weaknesses that have raised doubts about the reliability of the results. The ability to perform double-blind randomized control studies with mistletoe extracts is also limited due to the immunological effects observed on the skin following subcutaneous injections. Secondly, the studies are limited by the fact that a large economic investment is required to conduct them without being able to have any commercial exclusivity on the mistletoe-derived product after obtaining the final results.
The leaves and young twigs contain several medically active compounds: they are antispasmodic, cardiac, cytostatic, diuretic, hypotensive, narcotic, nerve, stimulant, tonic and vasodilator.
Mistletoe has a reputation for curing epilepsy and other seizure nerve disorders. The effect of the correct dosage is to temporarily decrease and numb the nervous activity that causes the spasms, but higher doses can produce the phytotoxic effects described.
Mistletoe has also been used in the control of internal bleeding, in the treatment of hypertension and in the treatment of cancer of the stomach, lungs and ovaries.
Externally, the plant has been used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, chilblains, leg ulcers and varicose veins.
A homeopathic remedy consists of equal quantities of berries and leaves; however it is difficult to achieve due to the viscosity of the lymph.
Remember, however, that all parts of the mistletoe can be toxic; berries, most of all, are dangerous for children; toxicity depends on the presence of viscumin (a substance capable of causing agglutination of red blood cells) and some peptides. The ‘pania’ used to catch birds (now outlawed) is extracted from the berries. Some idioms entered into current language refer to this use: a sticky substance or a particularly tedious person can be sticky, while it is not pleasant to be entangled in certain situations.
The concentrated extracts can cause significant intoxication, which can manifest itself with diplopia, mydriasis, hypotension, mental confusion, hallucinations, convulsions.
Some birds have poison immunity and appreciate berries, especially mistletoe thrush which is named after its favorite food. European mistletoe is potentially fatal, in concentrated form, and people can get seriously ill from eating the berries.

Preparation Method –
Viscum album uses leaves and young twigs that contain various medically active compounds.
These are harvested just before the berries form and dry for later use.
Many uses are linked to traditional medicines and beliefs that the careful use of this plant must be followed by specialized personnel.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
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Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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