A kiss under the mistletoe is a charming custom at Christmas time.

According to Scandinavian legend, Balder, the god of peace, was slain by an arrow made of mistletoe but was eventually restored to life by the other gods.

As a result, mistletoe became a symbol of love and peace. Best of all, anyone passing beneath it was to receive a kiss.

Women in 18th-Century England made the most of it. a young lady stood beneath sprig of mistletoe, she could not be refused a kiss.

But if she remained unkissed, she was unlikely to wed in the New Year.

Mistletoe grows on a variety of trees, including oak, pine, elm and apple.

Its use as a medicinal herb dates back to the ancient Celtic druids who believed it had magical qualities and improved fertility.

By the Middle Ages, mistletoe branches were hung from ceilings and doorways to ward off evil spirits.

Traditionally, it was said to have antimicrobial and tranquillising properties and became used as a cure-all for a variety of ailments.

For example, Native Americans were known to apply it for toothache, measles and even dog bites.

However, it would be unwise to prepare your own mistletoe concoction once all the kissing has been done certain parts of the plant are poisonous.

Nevertheless, mistletoe has become one of the most widely used alternative treatments for cancer in Europe, particularly in Germany.

Extracts of the plant are being administered by injection with conventional treatments to improve the immune system's defence mechanisms.

It has been suggested mistletoe, under the brand name Iscador, inhibits the growth of cancer cells and may lessen adverse effects of anti-cancer drugs.

Although chemotherapy still appears the best option for those suffering from leukaemias and lymphomas, there is concern about its side-effects in those patients with solid tumours of the breast, colon and lung.

There is evidence that using mistletoe extracts, together with standard drugs, improves overall survival rates. What's more, side-effects are reduced and treatment more easily tolerated.

Preparations of mistletoe contain various biologicallyactive constituents, such as viscotoxins, alkaloids and lectins.

However, their anticancer effect varies according to what plant the mistletoe uses as its host, the season it was harvested and whether its extract is crude or fermented.

Researchers continue to investigate how this mysterious plant, revered for centuries by so many different cultures, can benefit cancer patients.

Iscador is a licensed medicine and available on prescription only from medical doctors. Some NHS hospitals and GP surgeries are already using it in this country.

A doctor's list is available from Weleda, the Swiss company that makes mistletoe extract. If required, it can also send out information packs for GP's on the clinical data and safety record of the mistletoe.

For more information, visit www.Iscador.com online. You can contact Weleda on 0115 944 8200.