Here in the Rocky Mountain foothills, spring pulled a sneak attack.  All sorts of growth erupted from the earth, which means I can get back to foraging for wild edible and medicinal plants.

In December, Morgan gifted me with a trio of useful books:  The Forager's Harvest: Edible Wild Plants, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants, and a homemade native plant observation journal.  Awww... so sweet.  But I've been waiting all winter for our native plants to revive so I could actually use her gifts!

So, without further ado:  Today's spotlight is on mullein!

Spotlight on Mullein

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) - also called Golden Rod, Shepherd's Staff, Cowboy Toilet Paper (awesome) and about a million other names - is from the Snapdragon family and is best known as a medicinal herb that aids coughs.
Is it native?
Mullein technically isn't a native plant, but it is everywhere in the plains and foothills.  Since it's so widespread, it's considered invasive.  I'm totally cool with this, though - mullein has well-known medicinal value, which made it a mainstay in both European and Native American folk medicine.

How do I identify it?
Mullein's got two stages (it's a biennial, which means it takes two years to reach maturity). 

The first year, it's small, like in the picture above - a basal rosette.  To get specific, first-year mullein has "strikingly large, flannellike, velvety-woolly, long-oval, grey-green leaves up to two feet long" (Brill).  Over the summer, the leaves will get noticeably longer than those in my picture.
* Note:  First-year mullein is easily confused with lamb's ear.  Lamb's ear, when mature, has purple/pink flowers, while mullein has yellow flowers.   

The second year, mullein grows a distinct flower stalk, usually between 2 and 8 feet tall.  The leaves are the same, but larger and alternate.  The yellow flowers have 5 radial petals and bunch tightly around the stalk, blooming continuously from mid-spring to early fall.  Just look at the pictures.  They're pretty darn distinctive. 
Where can I find it?
Mullein grows well in dry, sandy conditions, especially in alkaline soil.  Look in old fields, on the roadside, near seashores, and in disturbed habitats across the United States and in the lower Canadian provinces (sorry non-North Americans, I don't know much about its international status).   

What can I use it for?
Medicinal Remedies:  The most common use for mullein is as a safe, effective herbal cough remedy. 

Mullein is an expectorant, so it aids the cough reflex and helps get rid of nasty stuff hanging out in your lungs.  It's a also a good general tonic for the lungs and mucous membranes.
~ Mullein leaf tea is good for colds, emphysema, asthma, bronchitis, hay fever, and whooping cough.
~ Native Americans also smoked dried mullein cigarettes for asthma and bronchitis.  There are indications that this is effective, especially for bronchitis, but still... smoking something to help out your lungs seems counter-intuitive to me.

Mullein tea is also astringent (helps contract living tissue) and demulcent (helps soothe irritated tissues, especially mucous membranes). 
~ The tea is good for diarrhea and has been used in compresses to relieve hemorrhoids. 

Fuzzy mullein leaves are also used as... you guessed it:  last-resort toilet paper!

Vitamins & Minerals: The tea, or infusion, "provides vitamins B2, B5, B12, and D, choline, hesperidin, PABA, sulfur, magnesium" (Brill).  Good stuff!

Scientific Testing:  Lab tests show that mullein is anti-inflammatory, anti-biotic, and inhibits tuberculosis bacteria.   

How do I prepare it?
Wildcrafting/Foraging:
Gather leaves (but don't take so many that it kills the plant!), then set them out in the sun to dry.  This could take a couple days, but they will dry relatively quickly if they're laid in a single layer.  If you're impatient, you can also use a dehydrator set to low.

Infusion / Tea:
For an infusion, use 1-2 tsp. dry, crushed leaves (maximum surface area, baby!). 
Pour 1 cup boiling water over the mullein, cover, and let steep for 10-15 minutes. 
Strain the infusion through a fine cloth, or the hairs may get stuck in your throat and make you cough even more.
You can drink mullein tea up to 3 times daily - adding honey helps with a sore or tickly throat. 
Picture
Can you spot my tiny friend?
Picture
Mullein is so tenacious!

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Comments

04/04/2012 10:11am

I am dying to find some of this on my farm so I can make an earache tincture for my son with it! I think I have some too - now, to go identify!

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04/06/2012 7:01am

I've heard about mullein's use for earaches, too, but never made a tincture with it - I hope it works well for your son!

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Becky
07/10/2012 8:39pm

This plant popped up where I had planted some bulbs a couple years ago. I have nurtured it wondering what in the world it could be. I sent a picture to my sister who had taken a Master Gardener class, and she responded with this website. I can't believe it is a weed. It really does have a different flower and look! I like it but don't want it to propigate if it is a weed!!

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fidget
10/10/2013 11:57am

"weed" is subjective...if you find a plant useful or attractive it's not a weed.

04/04/2012 3:46pm

Love mullein! This is one of the free medicinals we studied and used last year with great success. I also gathered the dried flower rods and spread the seeds in the wooded areas of our property. We'll see if it pays off this year. Great info!

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Becky
11/09/2012 10:22am

I was so excited watching it grow and then when I found out it was a "weed" that I thought could take over my flower bed I had my husband cut it down. Will it come back? He has allergy issues from end of May to the first of JUne. This would have probably helped him with all of that. Jumped the gun on this one, and I think I will regret it!

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11/09/2012 10:37am

Hey Becky,
Often our definitions of 'weeds' keep us from enjoying plants' benefits! Fortunately, mullein will propagate itself from the root, so unless your husband dug up all the roots, it will likely come back next year. Good luck!
~ Anna

Becky
10/10/2013 1:33pm

I had two more plants pop up this year! Just the first year ones! Our weather is wet so don't know how to dry them out. Can I put them in the window?

Thank you so much for linking up to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways! I love this post and I will be sharing it on my fb page and twitter:)

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04/06/2012 7:02am

Thanks Andrea, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :)

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Joycelyn M
04/05/2012 8:41pm

We call it Golden Rod. I never realized it had medicinal value.

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blanche
04/09/2012 8:11am

Kiva Rose has been working with mullein for years. Please see what she has written about it.

http://bearmedicineherbals.com/a-golden-torch-mullein%E2%80%99s-healing-light.html

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04/11/2012 5:16pm

Thanks for sharing this link! It's a great resource with a lot of information on plant energetics.

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blanche
04/16/2012 6:11am

You're welcome Anna! Kiva's writings are a great resource that I'm still learning to decipher. Her monologs are opening up to me bit by bit...it's like stepping into another world with a different language, new eyes, and an expanded view that creates a fresh perspective.

blanche
04/09/2012 8:14am

Personally, for several years I've been drinking it as a tea, along with some other herbs.

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Carol
04/09/2012 9:46am

I smoke dried Mullein leaves from a little pipe when I have an asthmatic/coughing attack. Works wonderfully. Just 2 puffs and my lungs calm right down. I used to carry an inhaler, but no longer need one since I started using Mullein. I have had asthma for many years and was on two medications for it. The Mullein effect lasts longer than an inhaler and I seem to be getting less sensitive to environmental irritants too. I'm very grateful for this plant.

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04/11/2012 5:17pm

This is really good to know! I noted how it seemed counter-intuitive to smoke mullein for respiratory complaints, but it's wonderful to hear first hand that it works well.

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04/10/2012 12:29pm

Well, I've never used it as medicine. But this wanna-be cowgirl has used it as toilet paper. Let me just say I can see why it is a *last resort* toilet paper. IT IS ITCHY ON THE BOTTOM. I was twtiching the whole long walk back home. (I was 9 years old, what can I say).

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04/11/2012 5:20pm

Ouch. I guess 'Cowboy Toiletpaper' is a more catchy name than an actual use. I'll definitely keep that in mind...

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04/15/2012 8:51pm

This is a great post! Well done! I haven't been able to find mullein wild here, but it should grow in our climate and soil. I bought some seeds last year. I just need to plant them! I'm going to check into those books... I need help identifying! Thanks for linking up to the Barn Hop!

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blanche
04/16/2012 6:06am

Once you know what mullein looks like, you'll never mistake it for anything else! It's an amazing looking plant that can get quite large. I've seen them 6' tall. My thoughts are since nature has made it so large with so many leaves and flowers and the leaves are huge, it's uses go far beyond what we have learned.

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04/18/2012 11:55pm

I love mullein! What a friend this plant is, and support. When we lived in the Catskills I used to make a fantastic smoke mix with this plant as one of the main components. In fact we used the mix to quit smoking toxic cigarettes, it was a real blessing. My man had smoked since he was about 13 so it was really tough for him to quit (he quit for me on Valentines day -- which was a lovely gift but a real pain in the ass trying to get through that day -- he was putting his head and fists through the walls he got so agro from the detox)

The herbal smokes just helped to get out of the physical habit of the action of bringing something to your mouth so often. But he also had (not anymore since being on the GAPS diet) asthma and it really relaxed his lungs as mentioned by Carol.

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Anna @ Patchwork Radicals
04/19/2012 7:28am

I've seen detox herbal smokes that pair mullein with skullcap leaf - the mullein helps relax your bronchials and clear out the nasty gunk, and the skullcap helps your nervous system adjust to withdrawal symptoms, smooths the rough edges out.

Congratulations to your man for quitting smoking!

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05/08/2012 11:41pm

Nice post.Thank you for taking the time to publish this information very useful! I've been looking for books of this nature for a way too long. I'm just glad that I found yours. Looking forward for your next post. Thanks :)

Cholo
www.0y7.net

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07/09/2012 6:10pm

I'm impressed. You're truly well informed and very intelligent. You wrote something that people could understand and made the subject intriguing for everyone. I'm saving this for future use.

Vivian
<a href="http://www.imarksweb.net">Marks Web</a>
www.imarksweb.net

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07/30/2013 12:31am

I am impressed. Thanks for posting this recipe. I have tried it once but the outcome wasn't very good and no one was happy with it. I think this recipe will be better and Pickled Radishes have always been my favorite. Next time post some interesting recipe.

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