Mullein is a biennial herb (Verbascum thapsus) with large (up to a foot long) rosettes of thick, woolly, grey-green leaves the first year. The long, leafy flower stalk appears the second year with a spike of yellow five-petaled flowers at the top in late July or August. Leaves are alternate, woolly and much longer than they are wide. They can be 4-12 inches long and 1-5 inches wide. They are larger at the bottom of the plant, and become smaller near the top. Seeds appear in the fall and are pitted, rough and grooved. They can stay dormant for many years and still germinate.
Mullein is a native of Europe and Asia and is a naturalized import in the United States. It is common throughout parts of the Midwest and the Eastern United States. It can be found in any open area, along roadsides, ditches, waste areas, etc.
Common Mullein, Great Mullein, White Mullein, Woolly Mullein, Torches, Mullein Dock, Our Lady’s Flannel, Velvet Dock, Blanket Herb, Velvet Plant, Woolen Rag, Woolen, Rag Paper, Candlewick Plant, Wild Ice Leaf, Clown’s Lungwort, Bullocks Lungwort, Aaron’s Rod, Jupiter’s Staff, Jacob’s Staff, Peter’s Staff, Shepherd’s Staff, Shepherd’s Clubs, Beggar’s Stalk, Golden Rod, Adam’s Flannel, Beggar’s Blanket, Clot, Cuddy’s Lungs, Duffle, Feltwort, Fluffweed, Hare’s Beard, Old Man’s Flannel, Hag’s Taper, Hedge Taper, Candelaria, Quaker Rouge, Graveyard Dirt
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History and Folklore
Mullein was first introduced into the United States in the 1700s when it was used to poison fish in Virginia.
Some sources say that this was the plant that Odysseus/Ulysses took to protect himself from Circe’s bewitchment, which she apparently brought about using enchanter’s nightshade.
Mullein can grow just about everywhere that it can get full sunlight and, as such, can be a troublesome weed. It reseeds profusely and the seeds can remain dormant and viable in the soil for many years. It prefers dry, sandy soils, but it’s not picky.
It requires at least 6 inches of precipitation per year and a growing season of at least 140 days. Seeds are more likely to germinate on or near the surface in loose soil.
Take care to cut the flower stalk after you’ve collected as many seeds as you need or your mullein could go crazy and take over! This is considered an invasive species.
Mullein may be bothered by weevils and slugs.
Harvesting and Preservation
Mullein is easy to cultivate and is considered a weed, so most people won’t mind if you collect it from the wild.
Be sure to get permission from landowners before collecting and never collect any plant from a state, national park, or wildlife preserve without express permission.
Mullein has a relatively shallow taproot, so it’s easy just to pull up the whole plant.
The whole plant can be hung upside down to dry over a paper bag to catch seeds that may fall out.
Mullein is attractive to many types of insects and can be used to attract butterflies, honey bees and other visitors to your garden.
The flowers can be boiled to yield a bright yellow dye that can be useful for dying cloth or hair. Adding sulfuric acid (lower the Ph) will produce a green dye. Adding alkali (raise the Ph) to that will produce a brown dye.
An extract of the leaves can be used to prevent the growth of mosquito larvae.
The dried leaves and stem make excellent tinder and can be used for lamp wicks.
Mullein is a great expectorant, soothing coughs and congestion, and loosening phlegm. It also has very mild sedative properties. As such, it is the perfect tea for colds.
Be sure, however, to strain the tea through a cloth bag before serving to remove the tiny hairs that will cause even more suffering through mouth and throat irritation.
Mullein tea with a bit of milk is also useful in the treatment of diarrhea.
A sweetened infusion of the flowers, carefully strained can also be used to treat colic.
Mullein can also be smoked to relieve chronic cough and asthma. Get a cigarette machine so that you can stuff it into filtered cigarettes rather than rolling it so that the tiny irritating hairs can be filtered out.
Poultices of mullein leaves can be used for hemorrhoids.
Infusing bruised mullein leaves in olive oil yields a useful treatment for frostbite and burns. The warmed oil can also be dropped into the ear to treat ear infections as well. This oil will have anti-bacterial properties.
Tincture of mullein is useful for migraines and chronic inner-ear disorders. Take 8 to 10 drops of tincture several times a day with cold water.
Spiritual and Magical Use
Mullein is ruled by Mercury (according to Agrippa) or Saturn (according to Culpepper) and is associated with the element of fire. It is feminine in nature and associated with the God Jupiter. It may or may not be one of the herbs mentioned in the nine herbs charm- opinions differ on this.
If you are making your own candles for ritual, consider using Mullein stalks for the wicks. Or the whole stalk may be burnt as a candle of itself. In Indian lore, mullein is considered a sure safeguard against evil spirits and magic.
Some suggest using powdered mullein in spells that call for graveyard dirt.
The little fuzzy hairs which cover every inch of a mullein plant are very irritating to the skin and mucous membranes. Use care when collecting, and always strain liquids with mullein in them very well to remove the little hairs before ingesting. Never smoke mullein without a filter! (Not that we are advocating smoking anything).