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Botanical Name: Verbascum thapsus
Species: V. thapsus
Common Names: Mullein
V. thapsus is known by a variety of names. European reference books call it “Great mullein”. In North America, “Common mullein” is used. In the 19th century it had well over 40 different common names in English alone. Some of the more whimsical ones included “Hig candlewick”, “Bullicks lungwort”, “Adams-rod”, “Feltwort“, “Hare’s-beard” and “Ice-leaf”. Vernacular names include innumerable references to the plant’s hairiness: “Woolly”, “Velvet” or “Blanket Mullein“, “Beggar’s”, “Moses'”, “Poor Man’s”, “Our Lady’s” or “Old Man’s Blanket”, and so on (“Flannel” is another common generic name).
Some names refer to the plant’s size and shape: “Shepherd’s Club(s)” or “Staff”, “Aaron’s Rod” (a name it shares with a number of other plants with tall, yellow inflorescences), and a plethora of other “X’s Staff” and “X’s Rod”. The name “Velvet” or “Mullein Dock” is also recorded, where “dock” is a British name applied to any broad-leaved plant
Verbascum thapsus has a wide native range including Europe, northern Africa and Asia, from the Azores and Canary Islands east to western China, north to the British Isles, Scandinavia and Siberia, and south to the Himalayas. In northern Europe, it grows from sea level up to 1,850 m altitude, while in China it grows at 1,400–3,200 m altitude.
It has been introduced throughout the temperate world, and is established as a weed in Australia, New Zealand, tropical Asia, La Réunion, North America, Hawaii, Chile, Hispaniola and Argentina. It has also been reported in Japan.
In the United States it was imported very early in the 18th. century and cultivated for its medicinal and piscicide property. By 1818, it had begun spreading so much that Amos Eaton thought it was a native plant. In 1839 it was already reported in Michigan and in 1876, in California. It is now found commonly in all the states. In Canada, it most common in Southern Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, and in the Maritime Provinces, with scattered populations in between.
Great Mullein most frequently grows as a colonist of bare and disturbed soil, usually on sandy or chalky soils. It grows best in dry, sandy or gravelly soils, although it can grow in a variety of habitats, including banksides, meadows, roadsides, forest clearings and pastures. It germinates almost solely in bare soil, at temperatures between 10 °C and 40 °C. This ability to grow in a wide range of habitats has been linked to strong phenotype variation rather than adaptation capacities. While it can germinate in total darkness if proper conditions are present (tests give a 35% germination rate under ideal conditions), in the wild, it will only do so if the seeds are exposed, or very close to the soil surface. While it can also appear in areas where some vegetation exist, growth of the rosettes on bare soil is four to seven times more rapid.
Verbascum thapsus is a hairy biennial plant that can grow to 2 m or more tall. Its small yellow flowers are densely grouped on a tall stem, which bolts from a large rosette of leaves. It grows in a wide variety of habitats, but prefers well-lit disturbed soils, where it can appear soon after the ground receives light, from long-lived seeds that persist in the soil seed bank. It is a common weedy plant that spreads by prolifically producing seeds, but rarely becomes aggressively invasive, since its seed require open ground to germinate. It is a very minor problem for most agricultural crops, since it is not a very competitive species, being intolerant of shade from other plants and unable to survive tilling. It also hosts many insects, some of which can be harmful to other plants. Although individuals are easy to remove by hand, populations are difficult to eliminate permanently.
Verbascum thapsus is a dicotyledonous biennial that produces a rosette of leaves in its first year of growth. The leaves are large, up to 50 cm long, and are covered with woolly, silvery hairs. The second year plants normally produce a single unbranched stem 1–2 m tall, with some plants reportedly having stems reaching up to 3.5 m tall. In the East of its range in China, it is, however, only reported to grow up to 1.5 m tall. The tall pole-like stems end in a dense spike of flowers, that can occupy up to half the stem length. All parts of the plants are covered with star-shaped trichomes. Its chromosome number is 2n = 36.
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On flowering plants the leaves are alternately arranged up the stem. The leaves are thick, and decurrent on the stem, with much variation especially between the upper and lower leaves on the stem, with leaf shape ranging from between oblong to oblanceolate, ranging in size up to 50 cm long and 14 cm across (19 inches long and 5 inches wide).They become smaller higher up the stem, and less strongly decurrent lower down the stem. The flowering stem is solid and 2–2.5 cm (nearly an inch) across, and occasionally branched just below the inflorescence, usually when damaged. After flowering and seed release the stem and fruits usually persist in winter after drying into hard, stiff structures topped with densely packed, ovoid shaped, dry seed capsules. The dried stems are most often dark brownish, and often persist standing until the next spring or even into the next summer. The plants produce a shallow taproot.
The flowers are pentamerous with five stamen that are fused to the petals, a 5-lobed calyx tube and a 5-petalled corolla, the latter bright yellow and an 1.5–3 cm (0.5–1 inch) wide. The flowers are almost sessile, with very short pedicels (2 mm, 0.08 in). The five stamens are of two types, with the three upper stamens being shorter, with filaments covered by yellow or whitish hairs, and having smaller anthers, while the lower two stamens have glabrous filaments and larger anthers. The plant produces small ovoid (6 mm, 0.24 in) capsules that split open by way of two valves, each capsule containing large numbers of minute brown seeds less than a millimetre (0.04 in) in size, with longitudinal ridges. A white-flowered form V. thapsus f. candicans occurs. Flowering lasts for up to three months from early to late summer (June to August in northern Europe), with flowering starting at the bottom of the spike and progressing irregularly up the spike; each flower opens for part of a day and only a few open at the same time around the stem.
Tea: An aromatic tea can be made by boiling 1 tbs. dried leaves or root, in 1 cup water for 5 – 10 min. A sweeter tea can be made by infusing the fresh or dried flowers. Or for children and the elderly use milk instead of water. Sweeten if desired.
Great Mullein has been used since ancient times as a remedy for skin, throat and breathing ailments. It has long had a medicinal reputation, especially as an astringent and emollient. It contains mucilage, several saponins, coumarin and glycosides. Dioscorides recommended it for diseases of the lung and it is nowadays widely available in health and herbal stores.
Great Mullein has been used as an alternative medicine for centuries, and in many countries throughout the world, the value of Great Mullein as a proven medicinal herb is now backed by scientific evidence. Some valuable constituents contained in Mullein are Coumarin and Hesperidin, they exhibit many healing abilities. Research indicates some of the uses as analgesic, antihistaminic, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antioxidant, antiviral, bacteristat, cardio-depressant, estrogenic, fungicide, hypnotic, sedative and pesticide are valid.
Dioscorides first recommended the plant 2000 years ago, against pulmonary diseases, and this has remained one of its primary uses, especially against cough. Leaf decoctions or herbal teas were used for expectoration, consumption, dry cough, bronchitis, sore throat and hemorrhoids. Leaves were also smoked against pulmonary ailments, a tradition that in America was rapidly transmitted to Native American peoples. They used the non-indigenous plant to make syrups against croup. The combination of expectorant saponins and emollient mucilage makes the plant particularly effective for cough. All preparations meant to be drunk have to be finely filtered to eliminate the irritating hairs.
Oil from the flowers was used against catarrhs, colics and, in Germany, earaches, frostbite, eczema and other external conditions. Topical application of various V. thapsus-based preparations was recommended for the treatment of warts, boils, carbuncles, hemorrhoids, and chilblains, amongst others. Recent studies have found that Great Mullein contains glycyrrhizin compounds with bactericide and potential anti-tumoral action. These compounds are concentrated in the flowers. Different extracts have varying levels of efficiency against bacteria. In Germany, a governmental commission sanctioned medicinal use of the plant for catarrhs. It was also part of the National Formulary in the United States and United Kingdom. The plant’s leaves, in addition to the seeds, have been reported to contain rotenone, although quantities are unknown.
In Spanish, Great Mullein is called Gordolobo. Gnaphalium conoideum was used in a fashion similar to Mullein by the Mexican Aztecs, which caused confusion in naming, and both are sold under the name “Gordolobo”, (although V. thapsus is not found in Mexico). This situation has led to at least one case of poisoning due to confusion of G. conoideum with Senecio longilobus.
It is widely used for herbal remedies with emollient and astringent properties. It is especially recommended for coughs and related problems, but also used in topical applications against a variety of skin problems. It was traditionally smoked for lung conditions. It is also a diuretic used to relieve urinary tract inflammation, diarrhea, and inflammation, colitis, or other bleeding in the bowel. The flowers extracted into olive oil make a preparation that is known to reduce the pain and inflammation of earache, insect bites, bruises, hemorrhoids, and sore joints. A distilled flower water or a poultice has been placed on burns, ringworm, boils and sores. The leaves are used in homeopathic products for migraine and earache.
Medicinally, it is expectorant, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, astringent, and demulcent (which means soothing). Mullein tea is primarily used as an effective treatment for coughs and lung disorders. Due to its mucilage content, Mullein is also a soothing emollient for inflammatory skin conditions and burns.
Dye, Insecticide, Insulation, Lighting, Tinder, Wick. A yellow dye is made from the flowers by boiling them in water. When used with dilute sulphuric acid they produce a rather permanent green dye, this becomes brown with the addition of alkalis. An infusion of the flowers is sometimes used to dye the hair a golden color. The leaves contain rotenone, which is used as an insecticide. The dried leaves are highly flammable and can be used to ignite a fire quickly , or as wick for candles.
Like many ancient medicinal plants (Pliny the Elder describes it in his Naturalis Historia), Great Mullein was linked to witches, although the relationship remained generally ambiguous, and the plant was also widely held to ward off curses and evil spirits.The seeds contain several compounds (saponins, glycosides, coumarin, rotenone) that cause breathing problems in fish, and have been widely used as piscicide for fishing.
The plant was also used to make dyes and torches. The flowers provide dyes of bright yellow or green, and have been used for hair dye.The dried leaves and hair were made into candle wicks, or put into shoes to help with insulating them. The dried stems were also dipped into suet or wax to make torches. Due to its weedy capacities, the plant, unlike other species of the genus (such as V. phoeniceum), is not often cultivated.
An old superstition existed that witches used lamps and candles provided with wicks of Mullein in their incantations, and another of the plant’s many names, ‘Hag’s Taper’, refers to this. Both in Europe and Asia the power of driving away evil spirits was ascribed to the Mullein. Being a sure safeguard against evil spirits and magic, and from the ancient classics, it was this plant which Ulysses took to protect himself against the wiles of Circe.
Mullein oil: Use flowers or root. Place in blender or crush, fill jar, cover with olive oil, set in warm place for 2 weeks. Strain before use.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.