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Friday, June 20, 2008

A Well Traveled Herb

This was one of those rare Alabama summer mornings--the temperature and humidity low enough to make working in the garden a pleasure rather than a painful necessity. Never mind that the idyllic state lasted only a couple of hours as the clouds drifted off, exposing the relentless rays of the sun. For a brief time, I was able to weed, water and enjoy the garden in blissful early morning coolness.

While I dispatched a number of weeds today, one weed I like to leave in place, or sometimes transplant to a more appropriate place, is mullein (Verbascum thapsus). Common Mullein is an herb that grows wild throughout North America in fields and along roadsides, but is often referred to as a weed, and has actually been classified as a noxious weed in Hawaii. I once thought that common mullein, being so widespread, was native to North America, but according to Steve Brill, mullein is Eurasian. It grows throughout most of Europe and temperate Asia, and has been used in European folk medicine for centuries. Soon after its arrival in the Americas, Native Americans discovered mullein’s healing properties, and adapted it to their own healing traditions. Known by various common names, including Our Lady's Flannel, Blanket Herb, Velvet Plant, Rag Paper, Candlewick Plant, Clown's Lungwort, Jupiter's Staff, Shepherd's Staff, Beggar's Stalk, Adam's Flannel, Beggar's Blanket, Old Man's Flannel, Hag's Taper, mullein has been used for everything from candles and candle-wicks to bandages to cures for colic, catarrh and diarrhea .

The mullein in my garden keeps guard beside the greenhouse, rising tall and erect from it's fuzzy gray feet, with a spiked cap of yellow flowers to beckon airborne pollinators (as you can see in the photo, one little winged critter is zooming in toward the flowers). In past times, mullein had a reputation in Europe and Asia as having the power to drive away evil spirits. Unfortunately, it does not drive away evil , seedling-chomping, seed-eating mice;it allows those nasty little greenhouse squatters free reign to come and go as they please. But I can forgive mullein this failing, and enjoy it for the many virtues it does possess, including those lovely yellow flowers.


Rurality said...

I've read that the seeds are viable for 100 years! Eek!

roosterhen said...

And you thought kudzu was hard to get rid of! LOL. That's what I've read, too- and it produces around 150,000 seeds per plant. Talk about survival instinct! I just hope Monsanto doesn't decide it has some economic value and start to muck about with its genes and make it sterile or something...We may need all the plants we can grow to use for candles and bandages and stuff one day...In which case, I'm all prepared...;)