Plant Profile ~ Common Mullein

Verbascum thapsus
Common Mullein or Great Mullein

Common Mullein is found all over the United States, although it is not a native to North America. Mullein is a bi-annual plant that can grow to be 6 to 7 ft tall the second year. In its second year it grows a tall flower spike that produces seeds that can survive up to 100 years before germinating. It is a pioneer plant that prefers disturbed, open ground and cannot tolerate shade. It is often found in meadows. It’s leaves are soft and fuzzy, growing in a rosette close to the ground the first year and then leaves grow up the flower stalk the second year. Common Mullein was brought to the new world by our European ancestors before the War for Independence. It was known to them as “Great Mullein” and quickly took root in America and Canada. It was so common that by 1800 some thought it to be native.

Today Mullein is best know for its medicinal properties, but it was historically used for many other things as well. We will look at both its material and medicinal uses below.

Material Uses

One of the reasons Europeans brought Mullein to the new world was for stunning fish. Early Americans used crushed Mullein seed for what they called “stinging” fish. The crushed seed was put into diked areas of slow moving water and it stopped the fish’s ability to breath, causing them to float to the top. The fish could then be collected with ease and such harvests became community events.

Mullein flower stalks were used as torches by the Romans and it’s use as such continued even in the new world. The dry stalks were soaked in tallow and burned.

Flowers can be used to produce yellow and green dyes. As early as the 4th century, Mullein flowers were used to make a yellow hair dye.

Mullein leaves have been used as “toilet paper” by woodsman for many years. In the western United States, it is commonly called “cowboy toilet paper”.

Mullein stalks can be dried and used as spindle for fire making in either a hand or bow drill.

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Dried leaves and “hairs” have been used for centuries to make candle wicks.

Medicinal Uses

Both Mullein leaves and flowers have been used for medicine by Europeans and later adopted by many American Indian tribes. Mullein is a common herbal remedy used to treat respiratory disorders such as asthma, tuberculosis, bronchitis, and pneumonia. In a 2002 study of common mullein extracts it was proved to have antibacterial and antitumor properties. It is used for earaches in children and has been reported by some to be useful in treating hemorrhoids, diarrhea, warts, migraines, frost bite, and ringworm. Most books on herbal medicine contain specific information on how to use this plant.

There is a good chance that you have seen this plant growing on your homestead. You may have wondered what it was, or perhaps you knew what it was but thought it was just a common weed. I hope this inspires you to try using this interesting and historically rich resource brought over the great ocean by our forefathers.

You can view more North Country Farmer “Plant Profiles” at This Link.

3 thoughts on “Plant Profile ~ Common Mullein

  • January 10, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    I’ve seen this on roadsides and always wondered what it was. My husband calls it “the big asparagus plant.” Now we know better!

  • Pingback: Common Mullein, It's Uses and Culture - Prepared Bloggers

  • May 19, 2016 at 7:50 am

    We had one, then last season 2 spikes, now we have 4 rosettes, prolific? invasive? Any one want it?
    It resembles GIANT Lambs Ears……..but giant!
    I’m happy to look at it this season, but honestly the spikes are huge.


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