Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Mistletoe cures cancer – 1

Posted on by royvickery |

According to the Observer of 29 April 2012, ‘Aberdeen University is considering proposals to establish a chair funded by a holistic medical clinic that believes mistletoe [Viscum album] can cure cancer’.
This has provoked ‘a furious reaction from mainstream scientists who say it would tarnish the reputation of the University’. They claim that anthroposophical medicine has no scientific basis, but apparently supporters of such medicine use mistletoe to treat cancer because it, like cancers, is parasitic. Such treatments, which ‘have links to homeopathy’, seem also to relate to the Doctrine of Signatures, a theory elaborated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which claimed that plants displayed features (‘signatures’) of diseases they could cure. Recent writers, such as Gabrielle Hatfield [1], suggest that what in fact happened was that people discovered that a plant was effective against an ailment and then sought a character of the plant to act as a reminder of this, rather than vice-versa. Thus the Doctrine, which seems to have found favour with the educated elite rather than the ‘folk’, was based on practical experience.
Although mistletoe does not appear to be appreciated as a folk remedy for cancers in the British Isles [2], according to Jonathan Briggs [3] the use of mistletoe in anthroposophical medicine has ‘increased dramatically’ in recent decades:
‘Mistletoe can now confidently claim to be the most studied of all the complementary cancer therapies. It is particularly popular across Europe, but has been slow to gain wide acceptance in Britain … Medical opinions vary widely, and this is a complex and controversial area.’

1. G.Hatfield, Memory, Wisdom and Healing: The History of Domestic Plant Medicine, Stroud, 1999: 90.
2. D.E. Allen & G. Hatfield, Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: An Ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland, Portland, Oregon, 2004: 384.
3. J. Briggs, A Little Book about Mistletoe, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, 2010: 23.

Image: Kenraiz, Wiki Commons.

Edited 15 March 2019.

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