Friday, August 15, 2008

10. Common Mullein

Verbascum thaspus is an interesting plant with much history in its past. Since the down on the leaves and stem burns readily when dry, it was used both as a torch in ancient times and for lamp wicks before cotton was introduced, hence the nickname, "Candlewick Plant." Its shape also suggests a tall candle, so several other nicknames for this species have some variation of light in the name, such as "Hedge Taper" and "Our Lady's Candle."

Its use as an herbal remedy is as old as many of its numerous nicknames. "Clown's Lung Wort" was used to treat coughs, nasal congestion, and consumption, as well as other complaints of the lungs. Concoctions made from various parts of the plant were said to relieve as diverse symptoms as diarrhea, hemorrhoids, colic, migraine, splinters, asthma, frost bite, bruises, toothache, cramps, convulsions, gout, possession by evil spirits, and gray hair, among other things. I actually used mullein oil (bought at Whole Foods) to treat an earache or two in my family years ago, but didn't know of this herb's reputation for healing other ailments at the time.

To read more, visit the Great Mullein page in A Modern Herbal at

In addition to its illustrious history, common mullein also has an interesting life cycle. During its first year, it exists only as a leafy plant with no center stalk:
The stalk appears during the second year of the plant's growth. The leaves, as they go up the stalk, get smaller. This fact, along with the leaves' arrangement on the stalk, allows rain to be funneled down to the base of the plant. Another way mullein survives--it can self-pollinate in the absence of friendly insect visits.


Sandra Dodd said...

This one is total news to me. I've only been in New England a little bit, and was usually inside. I love the exoticism of this whole project. I'm showing weeds and junk and other people are showing rare and valued treasures!!!

I suppose it might seem that way to other people who see my stuff, that mine are exotic. :-)

Fiddler said...

Absolutely, Sandra! I love seeing your photos of plants from the American Southwest. Lots of my "wildflowers" are considered weeds around here.