Viscum: Non-hepatotoxicity of mistletoe

by Paul Bergner

Medical Herbalism 04-30-94 6(1): 12

Mistletoe (Viscum album) was reported to be hepatotoxic in 1981 in a clinical article in the British Medical Journal. The reference has haunted the herb ever since, and a British agency has apparently proposed banning the herb on the basis of this article. As we pointed out in our last issue (MH 1993;5(4):3), the formula in question also purported to contain scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), but European scullcap is frequently adulterated with a potentially hepatotoxic species of germander (Teucrium chamaedrys), which could have been responsible for the hepatotoxicity in question. Now Zo Capernaros, writing in the European Journal of Herbal Medicine, points out that the product in question contained no mistletoe at all. The company producing the product had lost its license to use mistletoe in their products, but was still using a batch of old labels. Capernaros also points out that a poisons unit that was consulted 57 times over a period of 15 years with regard to ingestion of Viscum berries found no instances of liver dysfunction; gastroenteritis was the most common symptom. She also notes that the berries of American mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens) are more toxic, as reflected by reports to poison control centers.

Caparnaros Z. The golden bough: the case for mistletoe. Euro J Herbal Med 1994;(1):17-21. [Review article, 35 references]

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