Therapeutic potential of mistletoe in CNS-related neurological disorders and the chemical composition of Viscum species

J Ethnopharmacol. 2019 Mar 1:231:241-252. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2018.11.025. Epub 2018 Nov 17.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Viscum album L., commonly known as mistletoe, has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat various neurological diseases, including epilepsy, hysteria, nervousness, hysterical psychosis, dizziness and headaches.

Aim of the study: The aim of this review is to summarize existing evidence confirming the influence of mistletoe on the central nervous system and to investigate the compounds that may be responsible for this activity.

Materials and methods: Available information from studies of various species of the Viscum L. genus was collected from scientific journals, books, and reports via a library and an electronic data search (Elsevier, Google Scholar, PubMed, Springer, Science Direct, ResearchGate, and ACS).

Results: The main chemical constituents of Viscum L. species are viscotoxins, lectins, flavonoids, phenolic acids, terpenoids, sterols, phenylpropanoids, and alkaloids. Various extracts of Viscum album L. showed central nervous system activity, including antiepileptic, sedative, antipsychotic, anxiolytic, antidepressant and antinociceptive effects in mice and rats. Additionally, the extracts increased the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, prevented apoptotic neuronal death induced by amyloid β and weakly inhibited cholinesterase activity.

Conclusions: Numerous historical references describe the use of mistletoe for the treatment of central nervous system disorders. In recent years, studies have started to confirm the antiepileptic, antipsychotic, sedative and antinociceptive effects of mistletoe. Additionally, mistletoe can be used as a complementary treatment for Alzheimer's disease. The therapeutic effect of mistletoe might be a result of the synergistic interactions of various secondary metabolites, including mistletoe-specific lectins. Further studies of the chemical composition and CNS activity of mistletoe are required. The mechanisms of action, target sites, pharmacokinetics, metabolic mechanisms, adverse effects and interactions of mistletoe with other drugs must also be investigated, as well.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Mistletoe* / chemistry
  • Phytochemicals / analysis
  • Phytochemicals / pharmacology
  • Phytochemicals / therapeutic use
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use*


  • Phytochemicals
  • Plant Extracts