• Mullein, miner’s candlestick, velvet plant, blanket leaf
• Spanish: punchón, gordolobo
• Family: scrophulariaceae (figwort family)
• Genus and species: verbascum thapsus
Mullein grows throughout the world, growing from sea level to the alpine mountains. It is a tall plant with velvety leaves and bright yellow flowers, blooming in a raceme (spike-like flower structure) at the top of the plant.
Mullein can be an annual or monocarpic perennial (takes two or more years to flower and die) whose seeds germinate best on bare ground. Introduced into North America in the mid 1700s, it has become widespread throughout the continent.
Mullein is an important medicinal herb and has a variety of uses. The flowers are effective for lower respiratory inflammation and especially useful for a hot, dry cough — encouraging moist secretions and helping to relax spasms. These same properties make it an ideal herb for asthma symptoms. The anti-inflammatory properties of the flowers are used to make an oil — and when warmed and put in the ear — is soothing for the symptoms of an ear infection. The root of mullein is astringent and is a traditional remedy of parteras (traditional Spanish midwives) to treat postpartum urinary incontinence (loss of urinary control that new moms sometimes experience). The leaves of mullein are smoked in many non-tobacco smoking mixtures.
When harvesting mullein, the leaves can be collected anytime during the spring or summer. The flowers can be collected in spring or early summer by lopping off the top of the plant, or by plucking out each individual yellow flower. Never collect the flower spike with mature seeds present, as they contain a nerve toxin called rotenone, originally used a as a fish poison and still used to this day as an insecticide. Don’t let this prevent you from making use of this valuable plant as medicine though, just be careful not to collect the mature seed.
Consult your health care practitioner about the use of herbs or supplements, especially if you are pregnant, taking prescription medication or administering herbs to children.
Hawley is the co-founder of the Taos Herb Co. He can be reached at (575) 758-1991 or at taosherb.com.