3 Herb Mamas

Wednesday’s Weeds: MULLEIN

on June 11, 2014

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MULLEIN (Verbascum thapsus)

With common names like King’s Candle, Torches, Candlewick Plant, and Hag’s Taper you can probably guess one of the uses for Mullein that enjoys a long history. Later in the post I will share how to gather and transform this common (in our area) plant to use for making beautiful and useful torches for your next camp-out or evening outdoor activity. Other common names include Aaron’s Rod (or Staff), Our Lady’s Flannel, Velvet Dock, Jupiter’s-, Jacob’s-, Peter’s-, or Shepherd’s-Staff, Adam’s Flannel, Beggar’s Blanket, and Cowboy’s Toilet Paper. There are more and an exploration of common names can be an enjoyable research project. Suffice it to say, a plethora of folk names for one plant indicates a close association between people and the plant. Many of them even reveal the manner in which it was used, as in the case of Cowboy’s Toilet Paper.

Mullein is a biennial, which means it has a two year cycle of growth from germination to flowering and production of new seeds. The first year the plant forms a basal rosette of softy furry leaves that remain fairly close to the ground. All parts of the Mullein plant are useful medicinally and the leaves and flowers are edible. However, the leaves being covered in fine down would not be very enjoyable to eat since most of us lack a taste for fuzzy salad greens. One friend did tell me that she makes a great Mullein leaf vinegar to use in salad dressings and marinades. I am going to try some this summer. It would make an excellent vinegar given its high mineral content profile. It contains calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, potassium, selenium as well as some B vitamins, and vinegar is an excellent vehicle for extracting minerals from plants.

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First year rosette of Mullein leaves

In the second year the Mullein plant will return in early spring as a rosette again but then quickly send up a tall stalk that will flower sometime between June and September. The flowers gathered and infused in olive oil, with or without the addition of garlic, are a traditional remedy for ear aches. You could also use it with your Mullein leaf vinegar for making a healing salad dressing.

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Sunny blossoms along a Mullein stalk…edible and medicinal!

Mullein leaves have traditionally been used in teas, for steaming one’s stuffy head and breathing in deeply to break up lung congestion, and smoked as a tobacco for the same purpose. It is an expectorant so expect some coughing but it will be a productive cough…I promise. I sort of have to be ready for my coughing fit, which lasts about 10-15 minutes for me. The rest of my family does not seem to react quite as strongly and violently as I do but I have used it for myself in cases of severe lung congestion and bronchitis with excellent results, succeeding where two rounds of antibiotics had failed. I have actually learned that using honeyed Elecampane roots is my preferred lung ally but that is a plant and a story for another blog post. If I make a tea from the leaves for children with a chest cold I like to combine it with Chamomile, Calendula, Lemon Balm, and/or Catnip for the soothing/calming benefits they provide. Adding a little raw, local honey to this would further add benefits. Both honey and warm tea thin mucous secretions.

To make wonderful torches for using outdoors at night you will need to gather well-dried stalks from last year’s flowering. They are often standing in fields and dry places and are easily spotted along roadsides and waste places. I often gather them in the winter or early in the spring and allow them to dry completely before coating with wax.

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Several dozen well-dried Mullein stalks ready to be made into torches.

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Melt down old broken crayons (remove the paper) and candle stubs to coat the Mullein stalks. One recycled can per color.

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Brushing on a base layer of wax. Any color is fine, just seal up the whole flower stalk where there are old seed heads. You can decorate with other colors afterward. I use old paintbrushes that I leave in each can. I never clean the brushes, just melt the wax off the next time I melt it down for the next batch of torches. 

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Every Mullein stalk torch is unique. This is a very fun activity to do with kids and a good, practically free craft. I cover a table outdoors with newspaper to make clean up easy. When you are ready to use your torch simply “plant” them in the ground or a pot filled with sand. Scrap or break a small spot off the tip of your torch so you can light the “wick”. Once it is burning it is actually a little hard to extinguish. It will even continue to burn in the rain. If you do need to extinguish it before it finishes burning all the way down to the end of the wax, simply bury the burning tip in a bucket of sand. Depending upon how thickly the wax is coated on your torch it burns for a little over an hour per foot. The stalk that is left over can be composted or used for some other purpose like staking a tall flower in the garden.

Hoping you are scheduling some fun into your summer days! ~Leenie


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