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Home Plant Lore Great Mullein

Great Mullein

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AUGUST 2011: GREAT MULLEIN (Verbascum Thapsus)

Great Mullein Description and Habitat:: The Great Mullein is a widely distributed plant, being found all over Europe and in temperate Asia as far as the Himalayas. In North America it is abundant in the eastern States. It grows in hedge-banks, by roadsides and on waste ground, more especially on gravel, sand or chalk. It flowers during July and August.

A biennial herb, in the first season of the plant's growth, a rosette of large leaves 6 to 15 inches long is all that appears, which look somewhat like those of the Foxglove. In the following spring, a solitary, stout, rigid pale stem, with tough, strong fibres enclosing a thin rod of white pith, arises from the midst of the felted leaves. This can reach 3.5 metres in height and is topped by a dense terminal spike of five-petal yellow flowers. Great Mullein The leaves near the base of the stem are large and numerous, 6 to 8 inches long and 2 to 2 1/2 inches broad, but become smaller as they ascend the stem on which they are arranged on alternate sides. They are broad and simple in form with the outline rather waved. The leaf system is so arranged that the smaller leaves above drop the rain upon the larger ones below, which direct the water to the roots. This is a necessary arrangement, since the Mullein grows mostly on dry soils. The thick covering of hairs on the leaves and stem act as a protective coat to reduce moisture loss and prevent attacks by creeping insects. The hairs also cause an intense irritation in the mucous membrane of any grazing animals that may attempt to browse upon them.

Common Names: Torches. Mullein Dock. Our Lady's Flannel. Our Ladies Candle. Velvet Dock. Blanket Herb. Velvet Plant. Woollen. Rag Paper. Candlewick Plant. Wild Ice Leaf. Clown's Lungwort. Bullock's 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. Adam’s Flannel, Old Man's Flannel. Hag's Taper. Lady’s Foxglove, Cow’s Lungwort, Donkey’s Ears.

The down on the leaves and stem makes excellent tinder when dry, readily igniting on the slightest spark and was, before the introduction of cotton, used for lamp wicks, hence another of the old name 'Candlewick Plant.' An old superstition existed that witches in their incantations used lamps and candles provided with wicks of this sort, and another of the plant's many names, 'Hag's Taper', refers to this. However, the word 'hag' is said to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon word 'Haege' or 'Hage' (meaning a hedge) and the name 'Hedge Taper' also exists - this may imply that the sturdy spikes of this tall hedge plant, studded with pale yellow blossoms, suggested a tall candle growing in the hedge.

Dr. Prior, in 'The Popular Names of British Plants', states that the word Mullein was 'Moleyn' in AngloSaxon, and 'Malen' in Old French, derived from the Latin 'malandrium' (i.e. the malanders or leprosy). He notes that the term "malandre" became applied to diseases of cattle including lung diseases and the plant was used as a remedy, thereby acquiring its name of "Mullein" and "Bullock's or Cow’s Lungwort." '

The Latin name 'Verbascum' is considered to be a corruption of 'barbascum', from the Latin 'barba' (a beard), in allusion to the shaggy foliage, and was bestowed on the genus by Linnaeus.

Parts Used: The leaves and flowers are the parts used medicinally.

Constituents: The leaves are nearly odourless and have a bitter taste. They contain gum as their principal constituent, together a small amount of resin, a little tannin and a trace of volatile oil. The flowers contain gum, resin, a yellow colouring principle, a green fatty matter (a sort of chlorophyll), a glucoside, phosphoric acid; uncrystallizable sugar; some mineral salts and a small amount of yellowish volatile oil.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Mullein has been used for a very wide range of medical problems and was considered particularly beneficial for complaints involving breathing difficulties, including severe coughs and asthma. Used for glandular swelling and hay fever, it was also used as a pain killer and a sleep aid and to control diarrhea and dysentery as well as for a laxative. Gets rid of warts.

A Mullein Tea was used as a remedy for cough, hoarseness, bronchitis, sinusitis, tuberculosis, bronchial catarrh, mumps, and whooping cough. Externally, it was used for inflammations, arthritis, frostbite, gout and painful skin conditions. Inhaling vapour from flowers steeped in hot water was used for nasal congestion, flu, inflammation of nerve tissue, nerve pain, croup, or other respiratory problems. A poultice of leaves or the powder of dried leaves can be used for difficult wounds, frost bite, boils, ulcers, and sores while flowers soaked in olive or mineral oil was used as earache drops. Mullein was considered an excellent pain killer without being habit forming.

The dried leaves are sometimes smoked in an ordinary tobacco pipe to relieve the irritation of the respiratory mucus membranes and it is said will completely control the hacking cough of consumption. They can be employed with equal benefit when made into cigarettes, for asthma and spasmodic coughs in general.

Mullein oil is a valuable destroyer of disease germs. The fresh flowers, steeped for 21 days in olive oil, are said to make an admirable bactericide. Gerarde tells us that 'Figs do not putrifie at all that are wrapped in the leaves of Mullein.'

Mullein juice and powder made from the dried roots rubbed on rough warts was said to quickly remove them while a poultice made of the seeds and leaves, boiled in hot wine, was also considered an excellent means to 'draw forth speedily thorns or splinters gotten into the flesh.' Apparently, the woolly leaves were also worn in the stockings to promote circulation and keep the feet warm!

An infusion of the flowers was used by Roman women to dye their hair a golden colour. Lyte tells us, 'the golden floures of Mulleyn stiped in lye, causeth the heare to war yellow, being washed therewithall,' and according to another old authority, Alexander Trallianus, the ashes of the plant made into a soap will restore hair which has become grey to its original colour.

Contraindications: Hairs may irritate skin. Do not use as ear drops if there is a risk that the ear drum is perforated.

Additional comments and Folklore: According to Agrippa, a general and minister under Caesar Augustus, mullein leaves, because of their fragrance, had an overpowering effect on demons. 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.

More mundanely, the plant was also used by the Greeks and the Romans to make torches or lampwicks by dipping its dried flower-stalks in tallow. The large stalks were oiled and used for funeral torches in olden times.

In the Middle Ages, people deprecatingly called the mullein “hag taper”, because witches used it in their incantations and as an important ingredient in their brews and love potions.

At the time of Charlemagne mullein was misused for catching fish in “forbidden” waters. Boiling down a large quantity of mullein plants in water and pouring the decoction into fish ponds, the saponins in the mullein will reduce the surface tension of the water to such an extent that the water will get into the gills of the fish, which then drown in their own “element”.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 August 2011 18:15  



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