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 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.
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?
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.
You might like:
- Herbal Sleep Aid Tea
- Find Balance in Nature and the Elements
- Spring Equinox: Balance & Renewal
- Sprouts! Greens for the Winter
This post shared at Sunday School, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Homestead Barn Hop, Monday Mania, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter, and Wildcrafting Wednesday!