Verbascum blattaria – Mullein

MulleinVerbascum blattaria, V. thapsus

Verbascum = ver-bas-kum, from its classical Latin name in Pliny;

thapsus = thap-sus, from a town in Sicily or from the isle of Thapsos, now Magnise;

blattaria = bla-tah-ree-a, L. “cockroach-like”;

Identification: Mullein is a biennial herb, producing a rosette of broad leaves in its first year. It has an erect stem 30-200 cm tall. The second year the leaves and stem are covered with dense, grey, felt-like hairs. The leaves are alternate, elliptical to oblanceolate, 10 – 40 cm long. The lower leaves have petioles while the upper leaves are sessile. The flowers are in spike-like racemes and are bright yellow.

Distribution & Habitat: Mullein grows in waste areas, along railroad tracks, dry meadows, pastures, gravely banks and around settlements. It can be found throughout North America and surprisingly, it is an introduced plant from Europe.

Preparation & Uses: Even though mullein has not been used as a food plant, it has many medicinal uses. The dried leaves were smoked by the Indians to relieve lung congestion, especially after the smoking of too much kinnickinnick. It was generally smoked in the form of a smudge. Herbalists throughout the world have found it useful for coughs, colds, lung congestion, hemorrhaging of the lung and for hemorrhoids (as a fomentation).

The Appalachian Indians used an infusion of the leaves for dysentery. Early settlers felt that if mullein leaves were tied to their feet and arms it would cure malaria. The leaves are very soft and soothing to the skin, and are used for diaper rash by simply using one of the big leaves, instead of a cloth diaper. The flowers have been used to treat chest and lung complaints. An oil of the flower is quite successful as a treatment for earaches and for removing warts. An infusion of the flowers as a tea is used for inducing sleep and relieving pain. The leaves also have an analgesic effect. Moore says the roots are diuretic, having an astringent effect on the urinary tract, making it good for incontinence and for toning up the bladder after childbirth. The leaves of mullein were in the National Formulary 1916-36.

The plant can be put to a variety of domestic uses. These include a good lamp wick, a torch if the whole plant is used, toilet paper and as a glove for picking stinging nettles.