Verbascum thapsus

V. olympicum


Common mullein is widely and abundantly distributed throughout Europe, temperate Asia, into the Himalayas and North America. Ancient Greeks used mullein for both physical and emotional matters of the heart. Early North American colonists drank it to treat coughs, bronchitis and asthma. Ayurvedic healers prescribe mullein for coughs. First Nations people use it this way and a multitude of others.

Mullein leaves are demulcent, emollient and astringent. They are not only an excellent tonic but trophorestorative for the entire respiratory system. A daily cup of dried mullein leaf infusion is a great way to soothe chronic bronchial problems. Two cups daily effectively clears lung congestion, relieves throat inflammation and irritation, and helps to control coughing. A poultice made from plant material strained from the infusion helps soothe a sore throat and congested chest. Mullein blends well with other lung nourishing herbs such as coltsfoot, hyssop, thyme and comfrey. Long used as a smoking herb, mullein is inhaled to heal lung tissue, open up air passageways and stop asthma attacks. The Hopi, Malecite, Mohican, Navajo and Potawatomi treat asthma this way.

Ojibwa use the inner bark of mullein roots to stimulate the heart. Mullein leaves are widely used by First Nations people to treat lung disorders, and are commonly applied as a warm poultice to sprains, painful joints and inflammations, swollen glands, cancers, tumors and warts. To relieve the pain of gout, Lumbee soak their feet in an infusion of mullein leaves. First Nations of the Western Plains use mullein as an antispasmodic and a pain reliever.

Herbalist Matthew Wood teaches that mullein leaves have a moistening, lubricating effect on the synovial membranes and a hydrating effect on the spine and joints. Anti-inflammatory, pain easing and discomfort relieving, mullein leaf will enhance the pliability of the spine.

My Southern Italia neighbors refer to mullein as verbasco, tasso and barbasso. (A note about Southern Italia plant names - they change depending on geographical location: in my village mullein is known as verbasco, in another nearby village they call it barbasso. Every village here has its own unique dialect - all are distinctive versions of our Napolitano language.) We appreciate its ability to resolve mucus and relieve inflammation of the mucus membrane. Verbasco’s anti-inflammatory action in the respiratory tract makes this plant very popular among smokers, who roll the large leaves up and smoke them like cigars. In ancient times, fishermen would hit the whole plant against the torrent rocks, to express a liquid from the plant. It is thought that this liquid contained substances which would stun the fish, so that they could then be scooped out using broom baskets.

Mullein root enhances bladder function. It is a long-term tonic for the bladder and has been used in the treatment of urinary incontinence. The roots are also used by some herbalists to treat spinal misalignment.

Infused mullein flower oil has strong bacteriostatic properties. For centuries, grandmothers have used it to relieve painful ear infections. Mullen's golden-yellow flowers open up one at a time, all along the tall, stately stalk of the second year mullein plant. I gather them as they bloom and put them into a small jar of olive oil to infuse for six weeks. After careful straining, I put one drop of oil into ears that ache or are inflamed. I'm always amazed at how quickly it works to relieve pain, allowing the child to fall back asleep. WARNING! Never use anything in the ear if there is a chance the eardrum could be perforated.

Flower Essence Use mullein flower essence when you need to acknowledge and access inner guidance, and be true to yourself.

Magical Lore Mullein is an herb of protection. It blesses any garden or wild place it inhabits. Old wives suggest we carry a mullein leaf as a talisman of safety. Mullein stalks have long been used to start sacred fires. Our ancient European ancestors dipped them into tallow and set them afire as torches used during harvest festivals.

Make a Ritual Sprinkler Collect some water into a bowl reverently. Add a sprinkle of salt and mix it well. With deep respect, gather a bunch of fresh flowering herbs, including some mullein leaves. Dip your bundle of herbs into this water made holy by your reverence. Sprinkle droplets into all corners of your home and around windows and doors to bless, protect and create sacred, healing space. 

Culture Mullein is an easy plant to grow and beautiful to have around the garden. The woolly green leaves of this easily recognizable biennial plant grow in a basal rosette the first year, sending up its tall flowering stalk the following year. Some flowering spikes reach over six feet tall and if the Greek variety, have as many as a dozen spikes, looking like a candelabra. Mullein loves dry, sandy soil. Harvest the leaves anytime they are green and vibrant and tincture them fresh or dry them for infusions or poultices. 

When many people gather wild plants, plant populations may rapidly dwindle for future generations. To ensure plenty, bring seeds from wild species to your garden, or spread in empty city lots and propagate without disturbing the wild plant populations.

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