Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)


Every time we visit the nice folks at Petaluma Urban Homestead they send us home with some strange plant. Thanks to PUH, who are busy actually doing things as opposed to blogging about doing things, we now have a beautiful flowering mullein plant (Verbascum thapsus).

Verbascum thapsus is one of those plants that most people think of as a weed. Native to Europe and Asia, Verbascum thapsus was introduced to North America because of its many medicinal uses, almost too many to list. Most commonly used for respiratory problems, it also makes both green and yellow dyes and doubles as a fish poison! Tradition holds that it also wards off evil spirits,with some sources saying it’s the herb Ulysses took with him to deal with the treacherous sorcerer Circe.

It’s a useful, striking and beautiful plant. It’s also classified as an invasive. The Plant Conservation Alliance (PCA), a consortium of ten federal government agencies and 260 mostly non-profit organizations, has Verbascum thapsus in its cross hairs. How the non-profit “cooperators”, as the PCA terms the many native plant organizations in the PCA consortium, can get behind a program that suggests spraying glyphosate (e.g., RoundupĀ®) and triclopyr (Garlon) in wilderness areas is a great mystery to me. The PCA is also pondering the release of non-native biological controls for mullein such as the mullein moth (Cucullia verbasci). So, it seems, some non-native species are o.k. while others are not? Shouldn’t we be concerned about what else the mullein moth will munch on? Better, I think, to learn to get along. The non-natives are here and we ain’t going to get rid of them. Let’s find their uses rather than spray herbicides. We humans, after all, are notoriously invasive, a moral I’m reminded of as I read the narrative of Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca. If Monsanto marketed a Conquistador control I’m sure the Indians would have spayed an ocean of it, but they only would have created pesticide resistant super-Conquistadors.

While I’d hesitate to plant this stuff if I lived on the edge of a wilderness area, I see no problem growing it in the city. A mix of edibles, natives, ornamentals, medicinals and especially some useful “weeds” makes for a more robust garden. So in the interest of getting along:

Read more about the medicinal properties of Verbascum thapsus on Alternative Nature Online Herbal.
More on the magical properties of Verbascum thapsus at alchemy-works.com.

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10 Comments

  1. Mullein grows wild in my area (Willamette Valley), and throughout western Oregon it seems. I’ve never seen it go crazy, but it does seem to spread along country roads nicely.

    Interestingly enough, I’ve watched it over the last 20 years or so and seen it mutate (?) from a single stalk plant into a branching stalk plant. i.e. 20 years ago the mullein in our area had only one flowering stalk. Now they have 4 or 5, branching like a cactus.

  2. Seems rather irresponsible to take the chance of spreading a non-native into our system. English ivy didn’t seem that bad either…and black berries are tasty and healthy!

  3. we can ‘get along’, but with responsible plantings, not with plants that I’m sure will be used for your many ‘respiratory problems’…don’t be an idiot.

  4. The leaves are demulcent.
    But, the flowers are nervine.
    Simple as that.

    For example, in Mullein – Garlic ear-drops, the flowers are used and not the leaves, to take away the pain of the ear ache.

  5. All I have to say is seeds travel. I was reading a story a couple years ago how the seeds from Pampas grass blew into storm drains and then traveled out to the ocean and thats why there is so much of it in some beach areas. You don’t have to live near a wild land for an invasive to eventually end up there… That is flawed thinking.

  6. Plant Marijuana everywhere… Like the Johhny Appleseed of Pot, and screw Verbascum. It’s stupid anyways…

  7. native or non-native aside, this is not the first time i’ve heard mention on here of plants being used as a fish poison. google couldn’t tell me anything and i grew up in salmon country where anything that decreases the fish population is treated as a hangable offense. could you explain to my why anyone would ever need a fish poison?

  8. Spiritussancto,

    As I understand it the way you use poison to fish is that you dump it in the stream and wait for the fish to float to the surface. Then you just gather them. I’ve heard of pencil tree (Euphorbia tirucalli) being used for this. I assume it would have to be pretty stagnant water. And it sounds kinda unhealthy and unsporting!

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