It is especially gratifying to hear readers of my newspaper articles express excitement about discovering a new wildflower. May we always praise God as the Psalmist did, “And men shall speak of the power of Thine awesome acts; and I will tell of Thy greatness (Psalm 145:6).”
Today we view another wonder that God has given us. To view it we must journey to the meadows of our area from June to September. It is special because it has been used as a home remedy for many centuries, even before the European immigrants came in 1620.
Farmers that I’ve known hate mullein. They do everything they can to rid their pastures of it. The plant’s rough “hair” irritates the throats and stomachs of cattle. Mullein has about 40 folk names and a long list of uses spanning many generations worldwide. Another source stated that this was an Old World immigrant that quickly adapted to the Americas. Whatever might be the case, this wildflower has attracted a lot of attention.
This plant grows as tall as 8 feet, though most reach about 4 feet. A biennial, it forms a rosette of large woolly leaves at ground level the first year. In the second year it sends up a long woolly spike (stem) on which leaves periodically form whorls, that is several leaves attached at the same spot around the stem. Some of the lower leaves may be over one foot long. The length of the leaves shortens as they occur higher up the stem, creating a pyramidical shape.
Densely packed buds form at the top of the spike, with only a few opening at one time. The blooming season occurs from June through September.
Common mullein prefers open spaces such as roadsides, pastures, and waste places. This plant grows throughout all North America from Mexico to Canada. It has survived into central Alaska, enduring the rigors of severe cold, to complete the two-year cycle.
The pale green leaves were used by Native Americans to cover holes in the bottom of moccasins. Colonialists smoked the leaves to ease asthma attacks. Quaker maidens, forbidden to use makeup, rubbed their cheeks with them to create a modest blush. The various uses led to folk names such as Our Lady’s Flannel, Adam’s Flannel, Beggars Flannel, and so on.
Ancient Romans created candelaria for funeral processions by dipping the tips in fat and lighting them. Uses of the spike led to folk names including Shepherd’s Club, Aaron’s Rod, Jacob’s Staff, and so on.
Medicinally, mullein has been used for coughs, bronchitis and whooping cough. Elsewhere, fresh flowers were crushed in hope the juice would cure warts.
Other exotic and sinister uses are associated with mullein. For example, it was believed that the seeds were narcotic, and when thrown into ponds, would make the fish easier to catch. Alas, that trick never did work for me, but neither did most of my artificial lures. I guess I better stick to writing and forget about fishing.