by Renee Lindstrom, GCFP
Mullein flowers in it’s second season from June to September
Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is not native to North America, however you will find it growing freely in disturbed soil and rocky roadways, in fields and sometimes as welcome and uninvited garden companions! Mullein was brought over with *Eastern Trekkers. With the quantity of seeds on one plant its quick spread across North America is not a surprise! The seeds in the picture below represent about 1/4 of the seeds from the 8 foot dried mullein stalk that happily appeared in my garden. It flowered this year while in its second season. From the pictures above you will view small star-shaped yellow flowers. Each one develops a seed pod filled with seeds once the flower has finished blossoming! The stalk begins to form early in the season and continues to grow in height even as it blooms. Each yellow star-shaped flower will only bloom for one day leaving a seed pod to develop.
*Mullein is native to Europe, West and Central Asia, and North Africa
Mullein is apart of the Snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family. However in appearance, the only resemblance I view are the flowers on one stalk. The flower shapes are distinctly different as are the height and textures of the leaves and stalks. This picture is of a Snapdragon that also showed up uninvited, however welcomed!
First year Mullein Plants
Mullein plants explode through the soil in a furry rosette. The outer leaves quickly grow up to a foot long and this new growth is completely covered in white/silver hair that gives it a soft texture and appearance. These leaves have often been called ‘bunnies ear.’ The first year Mullein leaves are softer, thicker and seem more furry than second year growth.
Second year Mullein Plants
In the second spring, the Mullein will develop a towering stalk that will have alternating leaves before it gives way to a long spike of flowers. The leaves lengthen, thin out compared to the first year growth and become more upright. These upright leaves are positioned to catch water. As the upper leaves become wet they softly fall open and away from the stalk to position the water to fall down to the next leaf. This continues down to the root! The fur on the plant causes the water to bead. It is a pleasure to watch! Once the Mullein has finished flowering in late August, it dries up and dies. It has been called a biannual, however, mine have not come back after its second year.
Mullein’s Contribution to My Garden
“Both in Europe and Asia the power of driving away evil spirits was ascribed to the Mullein. In India it has the reputation among the natives that the St. John’s Wort once had here, being considered a sure safeguard against evil spirits and magic, and from the ancient classics we learn that it was this plant which Ulysses took to protect himself against the wiles of Circe.“
Moving into our current place and bringing all our plants in pots from a previous location we found ourselves digging up weedy patches of sparsely planted grass. In that first year a soft textured Mullein rosette appeared. In the second year this Mullein grew to 8 feet tall and flowered all summer long. It disappeared for two years until we dug up a sunny patch that had been neglected for years. In this patch one Mullein rosette appeared in the fall and the following spring it grew a stalk and flowered all summer. Luckily five more rosettes have appeared in the same patch of garden which means we will enjoy blooms all next summer!
The soil in our garden has been neglected for years and of poor quality. In late spring and early summer the soil is wet and hard to turn, however under the summer’s sun it turns quickly to powder. Any new compost and manures added to it is absorbed as the soil dries out. The latest patch of ground dug up has the worst soil yet and this is the ground that the Mullein has graced us with her presence.
Observing the Mullein plants from my garden and comparing it to others that I have seen growing wild in construction sites, I notice the tended ones did not die back as early in the summer as the wild ones. Their leaves stayed more hydrated than the wild plants therefore extending the season for us.
All Parts of the Mullein Plant offer Healing Benefits
Mullein is an old-timer. I don’t think there is any ailment that Mullein wouldn’t give some relief. Everyone should have dried mullein leaves or roots in their medicine cabinet at all times.
Mullein is a wonderful plant to start your foraging journey with. All parts of the plant are beneficial and can be used. With the luxury of it growing in my garden it was a daily addition to our diets throughout the spring and summer. Beginning each summer morning picking her flowers that bloomed to infuse in water for the day. The abundance of her flowers that spiral up as her stalk heightens meant setting some aside for later use. This would include drying for teas to drink over the fall and winter and to create Mullein tinctures and oils for salves and creams.
Mullein makes a very appropriate first herbal ally for many children or beginners in herbcraft. Its safe, wise and grounding presence helps take us deeper into not just this its own medicine, but into all herbal medicines. This plant provides itself as a guiding light and guardian for all healers who live within its range.
Connection and Placement
I found pleasure in the daily garden visits to the Mullein to pick her flowers and leaves to add to my daily waters. After a short time I noticed a significant change in my well-being. I began to notice that my mind was more alert and focused , my energy was balanced, and more vital, I was calmer, happier and felt more connected to all living things. I began to feel more connection with the plants and trees growing in the landscape along our block. The interest I had in exploring nature elements transitioned from researching nature to experiencing it. For me, this was getting off the computer to read others research and getting out to forage myself to try the real flowers, leaves, branches, barks, etc., first hand. Integrating nature on my block has increased my sense of “being and belonging.” I feel more confident and safe with the connection that has developed. Mullein has guided me deeper along the path of my journey and it has inspired me to listen more deeply using my senses.
I experience my femininity more since beginning my relationships with the Mullein growing in my garden, therefore I refer to Mullein as being feminine. However, I recognize the symbology of the stock. For me, however, the stock reflects the Feldenkrais body work I do in relationship with the spine and the horizontal leafy grow on the stock reflect the folds of tissue and skin at the base of our pelvis between our hips. The similar’s is the spine, bladder, and muscles and in my research and own use I have found Mullein to increase spine health and wellness and as way to tone the muscles for incontinence. Though I have not found any research on this, I have found it promotes healthier bowel movements possibly by increasing the felt senses in the lazy muscles in this area. .
In my practice as a Feldenkrais Practitioner and Empathy Relationship Mentor, Mullein has become a wonderful ally for inspiring curiosity in others about what is around us in our own landscape and to develop a deeper connection to integrating natures bounty into our lifestyle. For me, this exploration aligns one with nature and appreciation for it and oneself blossoms. Feelings of disconnection, abandonment, discouragement and so on disappear and are replaced with a soft, assured confidence allowing an inner voice to emerge. While this inner voice is emerging there is an inner knowing that is aligned with nature also developing.
Historical Native American Medicinal uses of Mullein
The Creek made a tea/infusion out of the roots for coughs while other groups smoked the roots to treat asthma.
Dried leaves were also smoked to treat asthma. The Cherokee rubbed mullein leaves in their armpits to treat “prickly rash.” Leaf poultices were used to treat bruises, tumors, rheumatic pains and hemorrhoids.
The seeds were used for fishing. They would be thrown into the water to knock the fish out so they could be easily gathered when they floated to the surface.
Historical Old World Medicinal Uses of Mullein
Since Roman times the flowers have been used to make a yellow dye to dye cloth and as a rinse for hair. It has also been infused with oil for treating hemorrhoids and earache.
- Dried Stalks
Historically the dried flower stalks were dipped in bee’s wax and used for torches, hence the names ‘candlewick plant’ or ‘torches.’ Using Mullein stalks for torches date back to Roman times. These mullein stalks and stems will soon be dipped by local beeswax candle maker and turned into candles and torches!
Current Healing Uses for Mullein
Herbalists have been known to use Mullein Root for:
- Lymphatic system
- Bladder toning agent
- Diuretic-reduce inflammation
- Urinary incontinence
- Bladder infections
- Interstitial cystitis
- Benign pro-static hypertrophy
- Bell’s Palsy
- Spinal Injuries
Herbalists have been known to use Mullein Leaves for:
- Lungs & Coughing
- Lymphatic System & glandular Swelling
- asthma, bronchitis, and allergies. It is also effective in treating sore throats and coughs
Herbalists have been known to use Mullein Leaves for:
- Ear infection
- Clean wax from ears
- Treat ear mites in animals
Traditional uses and properties of herbs are for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Every attempt has been made for accuracy, but none is guaranteed. Any serious health concerns or if you are pregnant, you should always check with your health care practitioner before self-administering herbs.
Maude Grieve, Author, A Modern herbal
Jim MacDonald, Herbalist
Christa Sinadinos, Medical Herbalism
Jim MacDonald, Herbcraft