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~HERB OF THE MONTH~ > MULLEIN ~ Herb of the Month, September


(Verbascum thapsus) 


     Mullein has been in my life since I can remember, but for the first 18 years of my life, I never even knew its name. I was always taken with its height (often well over 9 feet) and the fact it grew in places few other attractive plants did--waste/gravel/depleted soils. It always looked like a sentinel --on guard, watching, ready to protect. The fact that I knew nothing about it, did not keep me from sensing, these,  its strongest qualities. I first came to understand its abilities as a lung tonic and remedy for earaches and not until  years later, did I know that Mullein is indeed a guardian of the soil. This is the case with several weeds--they are as or more useful to the environment than to us for medicines. Mullein, however, seems balanced in its care for the earth and its inhabitants.

     A native of parts of Europe, Africa and Asia, Mullein made its way here with settlers and naturalized in most of the contiguous states. While not a native plant here, The Native Americns quickly adapted its use to local health problems and then taught those new uses to the pioneers.

     Looking at Mullein, the Doctrine of Signatures would lead us to see it as a plant that has strength, soothing to soft tissues, the leaves look like cilia laced lungs, the flowers on the long floral spike look like little ears. Their yellow color indicates warmth/drying. Its height shows an ability to rise above and maintain its strength (this plant does not flop over). Mullein's choice of poor soils shows its value as a soil indicator--a plant that allows us to diagnose what a soil would need to make it fertile--but it also is able to restore the soil itself, by drawing up toxins. This ability is called "phyto-remediation"- or plant remedy-- a new science that is being developed to use plants to rehabilitate toxic sites. Several plants are known to possess this ability.


     Mullein is not a food or even a mild tonic ~ it is a medicine plant to be used as needed. It contains some strong glycosides and if used correctly, has a fast and definitive remedial action. It is also classified as an astringent (tightens/dries tissues) AND as a demulcent(sooths mucos membranes) ~ another one of Mullei'ns unique balancing acts. While not a toxic plant, it is one to be used in moderation.

Lung Problems:  No matter what the particular illness, if the lungs are involved, Mullein will be useful. Teas for coughs are widely used, but for extreme phlegm or bleeding as with TB, it is also useful. Some use its leaves to smoke, in conjunction with coltsfoot  to  stop smoking. I have heard of several people who say they cured themselves of asthma by smoking it in small amounts. 

     For those who regularly suffer from bronchitis,  Mullein as a preventative is very helpful. Usually, the brochitis occurs around the same time each year. If that is the case, a tea of Mullein can be made starting 3-4 weeks ahead of that time. Often, the bronchitis is much milder the first time and then disappears after a year or so. teas of mullein are a bit bitter and are made tasty with the addition of any mint you choose.

Hemorrhoids ~ Heating the leaves and applying them to hemorrhoids is an old remedy, though some are irritated by the tiny hairs on the leaf. It works just as well to make a salve of mullein and applying it--and bypass the possibility of irritation from the fresh/dried leaf.

Skin Problems ~ Rashes (heat and contact dermatitis), benign cysts, wounds can benefit from a  poultice of the leaf

Inflammation/Arthritis ~ A salve applied to sore areas is very soothing. I use both the flower and leaf.

Earaches ~ This was my first actual use of mullein when my kids were small. It is an interesting and time consuming way of making a remedy, but well worth it. Fill a small jar with good olive oil after mullein begins to bloom. The flower heads do not bloom at the same time, so because the flowers are small, it takes quite a while and several days to fill the jar. To use, warm the jar in body temperature water. Use a medicine dropper to draw up 4-6 drops of oil, drop 2-3 drops in each ear and apply cotton balls. One application is usually enough. Do not use if pus or drainage from the  ear is occuring. I also use this oil to prepare ears for ear candling a few days before to loosen up ear wax.

Emotional Health ~

  A Flower Essence of Mullein is used for developing inner guidance and forming values.

Body Care ~

 One nickname for Mullein leaves was "Quaker's Rouge". Quaker women did not wear makeup--but still wanted to look their best-so they would take the fuzzy leaf and rub their cheeks, leaving them with a nice, long lasting rosy glow.

Rituals ~

The long tapered stalks and flower heads have been used in various parts of the world to ward off evil spirits. They are very imposing--but also, as mentioned previously, very sturdy. This has made them useful as torches when smeared with fats/oils. In this mode, people who were around breathing in the smoke of the lit tapers (also known as Aaron's Rod, Jacob's Staff) would be getting some free medicinal action against airbourne germs or aid against the bad effects of prolonged periods of damp air. Since germs were not known until the last few hundred years, evil spirits were also things that made you ill and many religious rituals to ward off evils, unknowingly doubled as medical interventions.

     Putting the leaf of Mullein in your shoe also is thought to confer upon you,  stamina and protection from highwaymen.

Gardening ~

     Mullein is a wild biennial which readily reseeds itself--in poor soil. Well prepared and fertilized flower beds will not be good homes for this plant. There are some species of Mullein that are very delicate, beautiful and resembling something more along the lines of a proper flower, but they too prefer poor soil. Generally, they do not transplant well, so either spot them early in spring and mow and/or garden around them as I do, or buy seeds and direct sow in waste areas of your property in the Fall. Mullein is invasive, but when young, pulls up easily, unlike some deep rooted species. However, I can't imaging having too many --I usually let them be and it is always interesting to watch where they plant themselves over the years.

The first year, you are treated with the soft basal rosette leaves (also called flannel leaf or lamb's ears--not to be confused with a stachys plant also nicknamed the same). They are so lovely and soft. Kids love them and they do indeed feel just like a puppy or lamb's ear. The second year, they send up their 5-10 foot stalk. flower, go to seed and then die off. Kids still love them because they are so big and they make great play weapons, jousting rods, pretend bandages or fairy wands. Birds also enjoy the seedheads in winter as they will always be far above the snow.

   This is a plant you will grow very attached to. I have had students fight with spouses about accidentally mowing/cutting down Mullein. I myself always take care of the first few mowings of the year--just to make sure there are no accidental mullein massacres. They become a part of your awareness and they greet you every time you go outside. Maybe you have dogs to keep deer or strangers away, but let Mullein be your guard against the troublesome trooping fairies or gremlins that may try to find their way onto your property...let them be your inspiration.

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