For years, it's been the perfect excuse for secret admirers to steal a kiss with the object of their desire. But research suggests mistletoe could do much more than just ignite Christmas passions.
Scientists have found an extract of the plant could help to fight bowel cancer, which affects 37,500 a year in the UK.
Patients who had the mistletoe treatment regularly injected into their blood had fewer side-effects from toxic chemotherapy and radiotherapy and survived longer than those who did not. The extract is thought to help the body's immune system fight tumours and speed up the disposal of toxic 'debris' left by chemotherapy.
Researchers led by Professor Kurt Zanker from the German Institute of Immunology and Experimental Oncology, concluded: 'The results suggest convincing evidence that there is a significant benefit from treatment with mistletoe extract.'
The scientists treated 429 cancer patients with the mistletoe jab and compared them with 375 receiving conventional care.
The results, published in the journal of The Society For Integrative Oncology, showed only 19 per cent of those in the mistletoe group suffered side-effects from toxic treatments, compared to 48 per cent in the other group. They were also 32 per cent more likely to still be alive five years after starting therapy.