If you ask most people what this is, chances are their answer will be something related to kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas time. European mistletoe (Viscum album) is really a parasitic or "bad" plant. Once the wind carries their seed to the branch of a host tree, it germinates and grows by leeching water and nutrients. Not only can it eventually destroy the branch, but a major infestation can eventually kill the entire host tree.
However there are some positives about this parasite. As well as some more bad news about it.
From an aesthetic standpoint, it develops a unique yellow color because it is able to give up on photosynthesis, since it gets to leech practically all of its nutrients from the host. Its vivid color along with the tiny fruits that grow on it are why it has been used as a Christmas decoration since long before you were born.
Does it offer health benefits?
How much antioxidants there are in the mistletoe plant is quite high. Its ORAC value exceeds chia seeds by over 3 fold and is about 50% higher than your average dark chocolate candies. Yes, the antioxidant content is significantly more concentrated in the mistletoe since it has been dried, but compare to dried apples and dried peaches, which are 6,681 and 4,222, respectively.
Okay so its chock full of antioxidants, but can you eat mistletoe? No!
The leaves, berries, and twigs are all considered toxic and they are not safe to eat. They contain a poisonous compound called phoratoxin, which can cause nasty side effects including diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, drowsiness, and blurred vision. You cannot eat it.
To be clear, this is not an endorsement of its use or efficacy. The reason why its ORAC value is being reported is because despite the fact that it is poisonous, mistletoe supplements are sold and the ground powder or raw leaves have been used as an Ayurvedic herb by some. Furthermore, mistletoe extracts have been used as purported herbal cancer remedy for many years now.
While not available in the United States, cancer treatments made from mistletoe extract have been available in many European countries for over 50 years. Suzanne Somers claimed to have used it as part of her breast cancer therapy. While it has shown some ability to destroy cancer cells in a laboratory environment and to possibly benefit the immune system, the evidence is limited and inconclusive according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute (1).
Given the fact that all parts of this plant contain poison, we strongly advise against using it for anything other than decorative purposes.
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't: The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Volume 13, Issue 1. NIH 2007