June 13th, 2010


Urban Nature Pictures 6/10; 50 More Urban Species #16: mullein

Mullein Verbascum thaspus

Mullein is a large, unmistakable weed from Eurasia. Its downy leaves, pleasantly soft to the touch, can only be confused with the garden plant lamb's ear. Mullein, however, likes bright sunlight and well-drained soil, meaning that it grows often where nothing else will, or at least nothing quite so tall. Mullein can reach heights of six or eight feet, sprouting from the concrete rubble of a demolished building site, or the oily gravel along the train tracks.

Historically it was a welcomed weed, with a list of medicinal uses as long as the plant is tall. Teas, oils, infusions, and poultices were made, and it was even smoked as a way to soothe the lungs. Improving respiratory health by inhaling hot carbon particles is a mystery to me. The seeds are toxic, and accordingly have their own pharmacological interest. I am not a doctor, herbalist, or drug dealer. If you have further interest in this topic, please consult the experts. I don't know if these people are experts, but they have a lot to say on the subject.

Reportedly the leaves have been used as a kind of insole for tired feet, and the flowers used to make dye. The many compounds found in the plant include some known to irritate skin, so caution is advised to the diy cobbler or stylist.

The leaves are also very photogenic when wet.