Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plants I Know and Love #10: Mullein

Good morning. This is Tina, and I am going to introduce you to one of my favorite plants, Mullein. It is an old world plant, which has been a valued medicinal herb for more than 1,800 years. It is very common here in the United States, and you will see it growing along the roadsides, in country meadows, and in vacant lots in the cities.
This photo was taken on Halloween day. We had a large flock of bluebirds out enjoying the bright fall sunshine, and for just a few moments they perched on our mullein. I happened to be resting at one of our many seats above the river, behind a manzanita bush, and caught this photo before they went off on their merry way.
Our mullein plant, the only one this year, developed a mutated flower spike which seems to be several stalks grown together. My dear husband has been fascinated by this top-heavy spike. We had a heavy rain and wind storm about a month ago and he was sure it was going to be blown over. It has stood strong through three big storms since. I am sure that I will get a picture of it this winter covered with snow. It doesn't want to fall over. Rich keeps watch on it daily, he doesn't want it to fall over either.

At Halloween, the flower spike decided to dress up as a space alien. It was definitely spooky looking, and we have been keeping watch out for the mother ship in case it comes back to claim its own:
Mullein perhaps has occult and supernatural powers. If you wear it, you are free from witchcraft or evil. Burning the stalks frightens away witches. Looking at this shot I can see why.

Quaker women, forbidden to use makeup, would rub their cheeks with the leaves to make them pink. Wearing mullein in your shoe is supposed to bring on a miscarriage.
Mullein was introduced from Europe by the colonists, who planted it in their gardens as an herb. It has now naturalized throughout the U.S. I am going to guess that the plant was brought to the gold country either by the Spaniards as they traveled up into California to start their missions, or by the miner's families as they moved West and started their home gardens with plants they brought with them by ship or by Conestoga wagon.
Mullein has been used to cure lung ailments, hemorrhoids, and earaches. Poultices of the leaves applied to joints reduces swelling and pain. Mullein was smoked by native Americans to relieve coughing spasms,, and by the Amish to relieve asthma attacks. Mullein tea and poultices relieve chest disorders.
In this shot you can see the seed pods. I am hoping the bluebirds didn't eat all the seeds and that our space alien will father some new starts for us to enjoy in our yard in the future. Earlier this year this spike was covered with lovely creamy yellow flowers.
In Greece, where mullein was known as Fluma (to set on fire) leaves were dried and rolled and as a wick to burn in lamps. The Latin name for mullein is candelaria. They would dip the stalks in suet and burn as a torch.
Our mullein plant is over 6 feet tall. Usually the flower spike grows to four feet, but taller spikes are not uncommon.
We had lots of mullein plants growing in our yard when we were younger. I used to love to pick the soft fuzzy leaves and pretend they were blankets for fairies or my dolls. I knew the plant in those days as "Indian Tobacco".

Mullein Flower Tea can be made by pouring a cup of boiling water over a heaping tablespoon of mullein flowers. Steep for 10 minutes, strain through a coffee filter, add honey to sweeten.
Tall and proud, this shot shows why mullein is sometimes called Jacob's or St. Peter's Staff. Other common names are Our Lady's or Adam's Flannel, Velvet Plant, Blanket Herb, Indian Flannel, Beggar's Blanket, Candlewick Plant, or Witches' Taper.
If you look carefully at the bottom of the flower spike to the right, you will see my corgi Robbi coming up to see what all the fuss is about. He probably only notices the mullein when there is no fire hydrant around to lift his leg on. A nice handy spot for him.
I have a very small first year mullein which started itself in a flower pot on my front porch. I am going to find a safe (from the lawn mower or weed eater) growing area for it and see if it sends up a flower stalk next summer. I don't expect another alien visit, but then, you never know...


Heidi Ann said...

Okay - now, that is really cool!
I don't believe that I have EVER heard of, nor seen one of those before.
I am always learning something from your posts!

yosemite faith said...

this was new to me as well. my folks would have loved this post and my guess is that they would have known/heard of it. great photos - very cool plant. please do keep us updated on its standing (up) / status! ;D

walterworld said...

Thanks for the great story.

Never heard of the plant before, but can understand your sympathies since I had a wild 8 foot Sunflower with about 50 branches pop up this past Summer in the middle of the vegetable patch.

It's kind of fun to admire a plant with a 'can-do' spirit...

Take care

Jon Richards said...

I love the Mullein pictures! Hope this is OK, I posted the one with a bird on top to my blog, and linked back to this blog post. See My ATA Blog, pic at the bottom. I work at the Allen Telescope Array near Burney and there has been a lot of Mullein this year.