Mullein, also known as Aaron’s Rod, candlewick, the flannel plant, the velvet plant, velvet torch, beggar’s blanket, and Hag’s taper is a multi-use herb. It is a native plant to Europe and Africa and was introduced in America and Australia. This velvet leafed plant with its brightly bloomed flowerstalk is one of the most easily recognized and well known of almost any wild or domestic medicinal herb. Amazingly enough, all parts of the plant have uses, but at different times during the year. The most common uses are as an expectorant, a diuretic, an anti-inflammatory, a sedative, an astringent, and various wound healing properties.
Mullein leaves when taken internally loosen and remove mucous from the lungs while soothing the mucous membranes. It is considered to be beneficial to the respiratory system and also used to treat coughs, bronchitis, asthma, flu, tonsillitis, laryngitis, and even as a tuberculosis treatment. Also a fact not very publicized are the benefits as a smoking herb. Mullein is a respiratory medicine and smoking the dried leaves is one of the many ways to bring that medicine directly into the lungs. It’s also used recreationally and is often mixed with other herbs because it provides a soft, cooling, airy base for herbal smoking mixtures. It is very mildly sedating and takes the harshness out of the blend. It burns slow and steady, producing a thick white smoke that is soothing to the throat and lungs. Use the very large leaves dried for smoking.
Mullein helps the body remove excess mucus from lungs and soothes the mucus membranes with its emollient properties. It is therefore excellent for curing bronchitis, a nagging cough, chest colds and even asthma. Both the leaves and the flowers contain saponins, which are natural detergents. These naturally occurring compounds make a cough more productive by releasing and expelling trapped phlegm. Mullein tea is the most common method of preparing the herb for this type of healing. Harvest the smaller leaves for making tea and once dried, add boiling water and steep 10-20 minutes.
The roots of the mullein plant are used for urinary tract infections. Mullein root can also be used in the treatment of incontinence due to a swollen prostate in men. The root strengthens the trigone sphincter muscle and its soothing diuretic properties increase the volume of urination, while decreasing the frequency of urination. With nighttime urination frequency an inconvenience with prostate issues, this herb is of high value. Mullein root also has a mild astringent property which reduce inflammation in the mucosa of the bladder. It’s recommended because it won’t irritate or overstimulate the bladder or kidney functions. A root tincture (root pieces soaked and aged in alcohol) can be used as a long term tonic for individuals with urinary incontinence, bladder infections, cystitis, and benign prostatic hypertrophy.
It’s recommended that if you want to harvest mullein root, to look for first year plants. Second year plants produce roots that are like hardwood and they will be difficult to dice up. Harvest in the fall and cut the roots up into small enough pieces to air dry on a rack or towel in a cool dry place. They will give up most of their moisture and become like wood chunks. You can use them for tea or grind up and make into capsules. You can also make first year roots into tinctures which have multiple uses.
The flowers are made into an oil which is used for mouth problems such as sore gums and ulcers. It is also used topically for minor abrasions, eczema, bedsores, chilblains (inflammation of the skin due to repeated exposure to cold.)
It’s been documented that mullein is the third highest-ranking herb based on nutrient richness. High amounts of Calcium, Chromium, Cobalt, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Sodium, Vitamins C and A, and Silicon are found in mullein. History demonstrates that this fact, although unknown at the time, gave mullein the distinction of being one of the herbs which served to bridge the gap between old world and new world healing traditions. It’s was very safe but also extremely useful and no old world healer worth their salt would be caught without it. It’s benefits were easily seen by naysayers and it quickly gained notoriety with the indigenous people’s of North America when transplanted from Europe.
Growing and Hunting Mullein
Mullein is very easy to grow in areas with full sun and dry soil. Often times wild mullein can be found growing on the side of the road. The plant takes two seasons to fully mature. When fully grown it can reach seven feet tall with a thick golden spear of flowers emerging at the top. In it’s first year it appears as a wide rosette of leaves. They range from six to fifteen inches long, and it’s often considered a weed. But since it’s considered a non-aggressive or non-competitive species it’s rarely considered invasive. It’s also very intolerant to shade and unable to survive tilling which keeps it under control.
A word of caution or two before heading out mullein hunting. Do not ingest the seeds of mullein as they are mildly toxic. Also if you are harvesting immature plants, be certain you know what you are picking. Another plant, foxglove, which is poisonous, looks similar in its early growing stages.
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