Mistletoe 'magic' may seal romance, bestow fertility and bring peace to warring spouses, according to folklore. Now the plant has also been credited with the power of healing, currently being harnessed to combat the side-efects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
A new outpatient unit at the independent Raphael Medical Centre in Kent, which offers integrated cancer care, uses mistletoe to fight the undesirable effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy such as fatigue, nausea, weight loss, low mood and infections, the Daily Mail reports.
Advocates believe the herb boosts the immune system and may even help kill tumour cells, particularly in breast, gynaecological, colo-rectal, pancreatic and lung cancer, along with lymphomas and leukaemia.
Results have been so promising that Gene Feder, a professor specialising in primary care at Bristol University, is initiating Britain's first pilot study.
He said: "Patients receiving mistletoe during and after radiotherapy or chemotherapy appear to tolerate those treatments better."
Treatment is usually by injections - two a week for two years. Patients inject at home after initial treatment by medical staff to monitor effects.
For instance, Anne Marshall-Lee was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2009. The 51-year-old teacher from Manchester was advised to have a mastectomy.
She studied the debate about whether mastectomy is appropriate for her particular cancer, DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in situ, cancer in the breast ducts) which later progressed to invasive cancer. She declined a mastectomy.
She started injections in March 2009 and her NHS consultant kept watch with biopsies and scans. Two weeks ago, an ultrasound scan left Anne jubilant.
"In the last six months the diseased area reduced by almost two inches," reports Anne. "I'm looking forward to further successes as treatment continues."