CAUTION!! THE SEEDS OF THIS PLANT ARE TOXIC!!
Scientific Name: Verbascum thapsus
Common Name: common mullein (also called great mullein)
Range: throughout the United States; found in fields, pastures, along roadsides, in waste places and disturbed areas.
Origin: native to Europe and Asia, naturalized in the United States.
Botanical description: The common mullein is a biennial, which grows to a height of 1-8 feet. It has a tall, straight stem with large, oval, felt or flannel-like
leaves and a long dense spike of yellow flowers near its top. The leaves become smaller and smaller as they near the top of the plant. The flowers are
of two types; the upper flowers have hairy and short anthers while the lower flowers have longer, hairless anthers. The common mullein is unmistakable in its
appearance; even when not in bloom its flannelly leaves and height are easily recognized.
What’s in a name: The common name, mullein, comes from the German, meaning “king’s candle” because of its scepter-like, candle-straight growth.
The genus name, Verbascum, is thought to be a corruption of the Latin word barbascum, from barba (beard), referring to the plant’s shaggy foliage.
All in the family: The common mullein is a member of the Figwort family, which includes foxglove, figworts, and another medicinal plant, eyebright.
Cultural uses: Traditionally, leaf and flower tea was used as an expectorant, an antispasmodic, a diuretic, for chest colds, asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and
kidney infections. The leaves were made into a poultice for ulcers, tumors, and hemorrhoids; the flowers were soaked in olive or mineral oil and used as
earache drops. Asian Indians used the stalk for cramps, fevers and migraines. Today, a decoction of the flowers is still used as an emollient and treatment for
ulcers, wounds and hemorrhoids and for relaxation of the digestive tract and mucous membranes. It also sooths the liver and gallbladder. The leaves have
exhibited strong anti-inflammatory properties. Common mullein flowers are still used for coughs and colds as well as for eardrops.
Active compounds: Common mullein contains mucilage, flavonoids, triterpenoid saponins, volatile oils and tannin. It also contains rotenone and coumarin, considered danderous by the FDA.
Research: none found.
In lore, legend and life: The down on the leaves and stem of the common mullein makes it burn quite readily when dried, so it was used for lamp wicks
before the introduction of cotton; therefore, an historic name for the plant was “Candlewick Plant”.
It was believed that witches used the plant as a wick in their candles and lamps when they chanted incantations, and so the common mullein was called the “hag’s taper”.
In Europe and Asia, the plant was believed to have the power of driving away evil spirits; it was also believed to be a safeguard against evil spirits and magic in India.
In ancient Greek classics, this was the plant taken by Ulysses to protect himself against the wiles of Circe.