Thursday, July 14, 2016

Much Ado About Mullein

You see them everywhere in the summer, tall candelabras of yellow flowers and soft, fuzzy leaves.  They're erupting from cracks in the sidewalk.  They line the highways.  They dot wildflower field.  Some even include them in their gardens.

Verbascum thapsus, or mullein, is part of the snapdragon family.  Originally native to Europe and Asia, they are now ubiquitous to North America.  Being drought-tolerant and providing flowers make them a very eco-friendly plant to have.  They starts a rosette of fuzzy leaves, and flower in their second year, before releasing seed to start the cycle anew.  

Mullein provides pollen for bees, butterflies, moths, and beetles.  It provides seeds for birds such as the goldfinch.  Ants, true bugs, earwigs, and other creatures use the plant as food, shelter, and building material.  (Perhaps the wool carder bee likes this plant to line its nest.  It does like my lamb's ear!)  The decomposing leaves at the base also feed pill bugs, who provide a great clean-up service in the garden.

Look at the happy honey bee in the first photo.  In the center, a ladybug, grasshopper, shield bug, and a four-lined plant bug.  Last, mullein in the wildflower field at ASRI Bristol, RI.

Mullein also has many medicinal uses.  I've made a tea of the leaves to use as a demulcent, useful for a phlegmy cough or mild asthma.  The leaves are also anti-inflammatory.  Both leaves and flowers can be used in a tea, the mucilage properties,  soothing irritated membranes, and saponins making coughs more productive.  (Interestingly, saponins cause respiratory arrest in fish.)  Some Native Americans have used the roots as well.

The stalk has been used to start fires and may have been used as a wick in Roman candles.  Ancient Romans called it "hag's taper."  It's also been called candlewick, bunny's ear, and flannel leaf, Jacob’s staff, Jupiter’s staff and Aaron’s rod.  Kids love to pet it.  My kid uses the leaves to make sleeping bags for her Barbies.

Mother Earth Living
Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs


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