Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), is a biennial herb usually flowering in the second year. In the first year, it forms a rosette of leaves that are large, up to 30 cm long, and covered with woolly, silvery hairs. In the second year, it produces a tall, erect stem that can grow up to 2 meters tall, with yellow flowers that bloom in Spring/Summer (pictured below). In warmer areas, it may flower and complete its life in one year. It produces plenty of seeds that can be collected and planted again.
Mullein is native to Europe, northern Africa, and Asia. It was later introduced to the Americas and Australia. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It can tolerate a range of soil conditions but prefers alkaline soil. Mullein is drought tolerant and grows in disturbed soil along roadsides and in fields. It can be a weedy plant in the Southern states of Australia.
Mullein is an important herb for respiratory conditions and is commonly used for conditions like bronchitis, asthma, coughs and chesty colds. It’s believed to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.
For sore throats and coughs leaves can be made into an infusion/tea 1-2 teaspoons of dried mullein leaf to a cup of boiled water infused for 15 minutes. A tincture is another great way to take mullein - a dropper full 3-5 times a day.
For ear infections, you can apply two drops of warm infused mullein flower oil into the ear 3 times a day. (Do not use if the eardrum is perforated/ruptured).
A poultice of the leaves made into a paste can be applied to the skin to disinfect wounds and sores. Lightly steaming the leaves or crushing or blending them will help avoid irritation from the furry leaves.
Torches: The flowering stalks were used as torches. Once dried, the stalks were soaked in a flammable substance such as animal fat, tallow, or natural oils. In ancient Rome, lighting was primarily provided by oil lamps made of clay, metal, or stone. These lamps required a reliable source of wicks to burn the oil and mullein leaves were found to be effective wicks.
Smoking Herb: Traditionally, some indigenous cultures have used mullein in ceremonial smoking blends. Its use in this context is more for ritualistic purposes rather than habitual smoking. In folk traditions, it is commonly known for its use in respiratory support, where it is sometimes mixed with tobacco and used in smoking blends to help soothe coughs. It’s also typically combined with other herbs like sage, lavender, or mint for varied effects and flavours.
Toilet Paper: The large soft leaves have also been used as nature’s toilet paper but be cautious as the hairs can be irritating! Rub some on your arm first to test it, before rubbing you bum with it.
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As always, be cautious when using any ingestible substance to treat yourself and consulting a doctor before doing so is a good idea.