Several Verbascum species with more attractive leaves or flowers are prized garden ornamentals, but the species best-known among wildflower enthusiasts and herbalists is the homely but useful common mullein, Verbascum thapsus. This versatile, fuzzy mullein is a gardener’s friend, an herbalist’s delight and an engineering marvel all on its own.
First-year plants form a rosette of large, velvety leaves up to 30cm (12in) long. In the second year, a velvety flower spike grows 4 to 8 feet tall. The stalk has alternate leaves that clasp the stem, a nifty arrangement that directs rainwater down the stem to the roots.
From June to September, five-petalled yellow flowers bloom randomly in the dense, club-shaped terminal cluster. The three upper stamens, which are short and woolly, contain a sap that lures many insects, including bees and butterflies to the plant. The two lower stamens, which are longer and smooth, produce the pollen that fertilises the flower.
Drought, heat, deer, slug and snail proof, this delicate pale yellow verbascum thrives in poor, well-drained soil and is perfect for a sunny border or cottage garden.
Sowing: Sow in pots or sow directly, in mid Summer to mid Autumn
Sow a small pinch of seeds about 45cm (18in) apart on the surface of ordinary, well-drained soil, toward the back of the border or bed. A location in full sun is preferable. Clumps of seedlings and low rosettes will arise the first year. Thin the seedlings to a spacing of 45cm. By the second year, the mature plants will provide a tall vertical element in the garden.
Sow 6 to 8 weeks before planting outdoors.
The plants have a long tap root, so you may wish to use root trainers or long pots. Take care when transplanting. Sow in trays, pots, etc of good seed compost. Cover the seeds lightly with compost or medium-grade vermiculite to help keep the seed moist during germination. Avoid direct sunlight by shading seeds after sowing. Place in a propagator or warm place to maintain an optimum temperature of 15 to 18°C (60 to 65°F). Keep soil slightly moist but not wet.
Following germination, reduce the moisture levels somewhat, allowing the growing medium to dry out slightly before watering to help promote rooting. They are usually ready for transplanting in 5 to 7 weeks. Transplant into 10 to 18cm (4 to 7in) pot. Harden off and plant out when all risk of frost has passed 45cm (18in) apart in full sun.
As with many plants, the covering of silvery down, indicates a special liking for sun and moist but sharply draining soil; sites with poor drainage will most likely lead to plant mortality. They require a mulch in the winter for protection and a cool winter period (called vernalisation) before flowering the second season.
Plants are biennial. They germinate in autumn overwinter if they are large enough (rosettes less than 15 cm (6in) across die in winter) before flowering the next year. The entire plant usually dies at the end of its second year, although some remain vegetative a third year.
.These evergreen plants keep their leaves year round, losing the aerial part during the coldest months of the year. Tidy the leaves in spring and then leave the plant to perform. The stems are woody and most verbascums do not need staking. Mullein self-sows readily but the plant has no special mechanisms for dispersal and usually fall close to the parent plant. (75% of the seeds fall within a single metre). Remove flower stalks before seeds develop or pull out unwanted plants to keep your mullein patch tidy.
Plant Uses: Cottage or Gravel Garden. Architectural. Drought, heat, deer, slug and snail proof.
Harvesting the plant:
Harvest the buds and flowers when in bloom use them fresh or dried. Bundle and hang the leaves upside down to dry. Roots can be gathered before the stalk grows, sliced and dried. To dry the flowers, place them face down on paper or racks away from light to preserve colour (and medicinal properties).
Mulleins have been used in natural medicine for centuries and are among the oldest known medicinal plants. Flowers, leaves roots and seeds are used. Mullein tea is made from the flowers and is primarily valued as an expectorant. It is anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, astringent, soothing and demulcent (soothing). An aromatic, slightly bitter tea can be made by infusing the dried leaves. A fragrant, sweeter tea can be made by infusing the fresh or dried flowers
Mullein leaves are demulcent and emollient, and are thought to possess anodyne (capable of relieving pain or distress [Greek an – ‘without’ and odune - ‘pain’ ) properties, which render them useful in pectoral complaints. The dried leaves are sometimes smoked, to relieve irritation of the respiratory mucous membranes
Like many other herbs, mullein is not entirely benign. Some people find the plant’s hairs irritating to skin and mucous membranes. It’s a good idea to see how you react to a small amount of mullein before consuming it or smearing it on your body. And always strain the tea through fine-weave cloth or a coffee filter to remove any stray hairs.
Folklore and Facts:
The flowers make a bright yellow dye, which can be used to dye hair or cloth. The addition of dilute sulphuric acid will produce a colour-fast green. If you then add an alkali, to raise the Ph, the dye becomes brown. A yellow dye made from the flowers was used by Roman women to colour hair.
The leaves are a rubefacient, which means that if you rub them against your skin it will become red and irritated, which is something to remember when you're in the woods looking for toilet paper substitutes. It also means that when you've been handling it, your hands get a warm, fuzzy feeling. Quaker women, forbidden to use makeup, rubbed the leaves on their cheeks to give the appearance of wearing rouge, which is how mullein acquired the name 'Quaker rouge'
Leaves of common mullein were placed inside shoes for warmth giving rise to common names such as beggar's blanket or beggar's flannel. Other names refer to the softness of the leaves, and their similarity to textiles -Duffle, Blanket leaf, Feltwort, Adam's flannel, Flannel and Our Lady's flannel. Wolleyn, wullen or woollen.
Mullein stems were dipped in tallow to make torches, the custom dates back at least to Roman times. It is reported that these torches either used by witches or used to repel them, hence the name “hag taper.” Common Mullein was linked to witches, although the relationship remains ambiguous, the plant was widely held as being able to ward off curses and evil spirits. Verbascum was grown in monastery gardens to keep out the devil.
In North Somerset they called it Lucernaria, or Wick plant. Lyte says: "The whole toppe, with his pleasant, yellow floures, sheweth like to a wax-candle, a taper, cunningly wrought"; and Coles says: "The elder age used the stalks dipped in suet to burn, whether at funerals or for private uses".
The leaves, dried and rolled, can be used as lamp wicks. It is also helpful both as tinder for starting your campfire and as a quick burning fuel. If you're still not warm enough, the leaves also make pretty good insulation when placed inside shoes or clothing. From these uses, mullein is also called Torches, Candlewick plant, and Beggar's blanket.
Aristotle noted that fish were easier to catch after eating common mullein seeds. The seeds contain saponins. Historically, fishing techniques of indigenous people around the world have frequently included the use of plant-based piscicides. In the TV series, Bushcraft, Ray Mears joins a tribe on the Amazon who fish by putting Verbascum leaves in the river to make the fish sleepy. Verbascum species are called 'fish plant' in the northern Anatolia.
The leaves also contain rotenone which has insecticide properties.
The word Verbascum is likely to have been derived from two Latin sources, ver meaning ‘spring’ and / or barbascum, which means ‘bearded plant’.
Native to the mountains of Greece and Turkey. The specific epithet thapsus is of unclear origins. It may be related to the ancient North African seaport of Thapsus (thăp'sus), south east of Carthage in what is now Tunisia, or the Greek establishment of Thapsos, now near Syracuse, Sicily.
Mullein is said to be derived from a Middle English word, moleyne, also from the Latin mollis. Both words have the same meaning ‘soft’. The name may also relate to the Latin malandrium, meaning malanders, a cattle disease for which mullein was used as a remedy.
Common Names are numerous: Aaron's rod, Adam's flannel, beggar's blanket, beggar's flannel, beggar's stalk, big taper, blanket herb, blanket leaf, bullock's lungwort, candlewick plant, clot, clown's lungwort, cow's lungwort, cuddy's lungs, devil's-tobacco, duffle, feltwort, flannel leaf, flannel plant, fluffweed, golden rod, great mullein, hag's taper, hare's beard, hedge-taper, ice leaf, Jacob's staff, Jupiter's staff, lungwort, miner's candle, mullein, mullein dock, old man's flannel, Our Lady's flannel, Quaker rouge, rag paper, shepherd's club, shepherd's staff, St. Peter's staff, torches, torchwort, velvet dock, velvet plant, white man's-footsteps, wild ice leaf, witch's taper, wolleyn, wullen or woollen, woolly mullein.
Jacob’s staff, Jupiter’s staff and Aaron’s rod all have been used as names for the tall flower stalks.
Hege or haga, is a hedge, from the usual place of growth.
Gerarde says as to the name Bullock's Lungwort: "The country people, especially those husbandmen in Kent, doe give their cattell the leaves to drink against the cough of the lungs, being an excellent approved medicine for the same, whereupon they do call it Bullock Lungwort".
- Additional Information
Packet Size 200mg Average Seed Count 1,800 Seeds Family Plantaginaceae Genus Verbascum Species thapsus Cultivar Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Common Name Aaron's Rod, Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Other Common Names Great Mullein, Adams Flannel, Fairy Tale Plant Other Language Names IR. Coinnle Muire Hardiness Hardy Biennial Flowers Sulphur-Yellow in June to August. Foliage Low-growing rosette of large 30cm (12in) silvery-green leaves Height 180cm (70in) Spread 60cm (24in) Position Full Sun Soil Well-drained/light, Chalky/alkaline, Dry, Sandy