Latin Name: Verbascum spp
A stout herb. It takes two years to complete its life cycle. It can be 2.5 m high. The flowering stems are erect. The leaves, stems and outer flower parts have dense soft white hairs. There is a ring of leaves near the base. These are oval or sword shaped with a sharp tip. The leaf base narrows to a winged stalk. The leaves on the flowering stem get smaller and do not have a stalk. They have a wing which continues down the stem. The flowers are on a dense rod like structure. The flowers are in groups of 1-7 in the axils of bracts. The fruit is a dry round capsule.
Like many ancient medicinal plants (Pliny the Elder describes it in his Naturalis Historia), Great Mullein was linked to witches, although the relationship remained generally ambiguous, and the plant was also widely held to ward off curses and evil spirits. The seeds contain several compounds (saponins, glycosides, coumarin, rotenone) that cause breathing problems in fish, and have been widely used as piscicide for fishing. The stalk can also be dried as a spindle for making fire either by hand drill or bow drill.
Edibility Rating out of 5: 1
Medicinal Rating out of 5: 3
An aromatic, slightly bitter tea can be made by infusing the dried leaves in boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes. A sweeter tea can be made by infusing the fresh or dried flowers.
Warnings: The leaves contain rotenone and coumarin, though the quantities are not given. Rotenone is used as an insecticide and coumarin can prevent the blood from clotting. Hairs on the leaves can act as an irritant.
Medicinal Uses: Anodyne; Antiseptic; Astringent; Demulcent; Emollient; Expectorant; Homeopathy; Narcotic; Odontalgic; Vulnerary.
Great mullein is a commonly used domestic herbal remedy, valued for its efficacy in the treatment of pectoral complaints. It acts by reducing the formation of mucus and stimulating the coughing up of phlegm, and is a specific treatment for tracheitis and bronchitis. The leaves and the flowers are anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant and vulnerary. An infusion is taken internally in the treatment of a wide range of chest complaints and also to treat diarrhoea. The plant combines well with other expectorants such as coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Externally, a poultice of the leaves is a good healer of wounds and is also applied to ulcers, tumours and piles. Any preparation made from the leaves needs to be carefully strained in order to remove the small hairs which can be an irritant. The plant is harvested when in flower and is dried for later use. An infusion of the flowers in olive oil is used as earache drops, or as a local application in the treatment of piles and other mucous membrane inflammations. This infusion is also strongly bactericidal. A decoction of the roots is said to alleviate toothache and also relieve cramps and convulsions. The juice of the plant and powder made from the dried roots is said to quickly remove rough warts when rubbed on them. It is not thought to be so useful for smooth warts. The seeds are slightly narcotic and also contain saponins. A poultice made from the seeds and leaves is used to draw out splinters. A decoction of the seeds is used to soothe chilblains and chapped skin. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh leaves. It is used in the treatment of long-standing headaches accompanied with oppression of the ear.
Other Uses: Dye; Insecticide; Insulation; Lighting; Tinder; Wick.
A yellow dye is obtained from the flowers by boiling them in water. When used with dilute sulphuric acid they produce a rather permanent green dye, this becomes brown with the addition of alkalis. An infusion of the flowers is sometimes used to dye the hair a golden colour. The flowering stems can be dipped in wax and used as torches. The down on the leaves and stems makes an excellent tinder when quite dry. It is also used as an insulation in shoes to keep the feet warm and to make wicks for candle. One report says that the leaves contain rotenone, though it does not say in what quantity. Rotenone is used as an insecticide.