Plant Study: Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Common/Folkloric Names: “Great or Common Mullein” “Lungs of the Earth” “Cowboy/Hippy/Indian Toilet Paper” “Flannel Leaf” “Velvet Dock”
Common Mullein is a reseeding biennial. Although not a native to the US, it has naturalized and can be seen throughout the country. In its first year, the ‘mother’ plant emerges as a rosette of leaves close to the ground, a spiral of green and silver growing from the center outwards. Looking into the rosette one spies the sweetest fuzzy leaves, appearing slightly silvery, as if kissed by the soft moonlight. It feels like childlike wonder to reach into and touch this sweet softness, like Mother Nature’s baby blanket or stuffed teddy bear (hence the name velvet dock or flannel leaf). As the rosette grows, the outer leaves become a deeper green and sometimes lose that silvery color and poofier‘fluff’. These outer leaves are still soft, but in many of the plants, not as fresh and tender-seeming as its center. After a few more weeks the leaves that have spiraled to the outer edges may become more thin, less fuzzy and in a more mature plant, yellow.
The mother plant will appear to die back during the colder months but in truth all of its life force has just gone to bed, down into the soil of the earth. From the same roots the following year, its dead looking rosette fills back with a beautiful green color and grows an additional tall stalk from its center, with spiraling blossoms of five petaled, symmetrical flowers.This stalk is stronger than it looks, sometimes growing straight up like a phallus (hence its more masculine common name of “Aaron’s Rod”) and at other times (depending on light, stress or genetics) curving a bit or producing smaller stocks from the central stalk. At the end of its second year when the weather becomes colder, the mother plant will return completely to the earth in its final stage of death. However, the seeds from the flowers drop easily to the earth and are not discriminating. They can grow in most soil, both fertile and desolate. This easy seeding and hardiness, not particular to just fertile ground, is the reason Mullein can be found everywhere. It is considered invasive to gardeners who don’t know the benefits of mullein, and don’t use the plant for medicine. Instead they see it as an annoying, wild volunteer, taking over their gardens by growing prolifically amidst everything.
Mullein in its second year can easily be seen by the roadside, as it grows well in wastelands & places of disrupted soil. The beauty of common mullein is that its large taproot descends deep into depleted soils to find and gather essential minerals and nutrients. The taproots gather, then pull the nutrients up and into their fuzzy, furry leaves. This ability to gather nutrients gives mullein the permaculture name of dynamic nutrient accumulator. Due to Mullein and other beloved ‘weeds’ such as red clover, wild oats and comfrey, depleted soil & desecrated land can be returned to balance & vitality. So let it grow!!
**This Post is only 1/2 done! Stay tuned for The Herbal and Psycho-spiritual Medicine this plant has to offer!