Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Foraged: Mullein

Verbascum Thapsis is quite possibly the best plant, ever. It is incredibly soft and fuzzy and is a pleasure to touch. First-year plants form a rosette of large, velvety leaves that are up to 1 foot long and in the second year a velvety flower spike grows as much as 8 feet tall. (You can differentiate this plant from Lamb's Ear by the fact that it grows in a rosette and Lamb's Ear just grows in clumps.)

In the 19th century Mullein had dozens of (awesome) names: "Hare's Beard", "Jupitor's Staff", "Feltwort", "Ice Leaf", "Beggar's Blanket"... to name a few. “Candlewick plant” refers to the practice of using dried mullein leaves and stems to make lamp wicks (the use of Mullein as torches dates back to Roman times, if not even earlier). There is also the intriguing name “Hag Taper.” In the midwestern United States, Mullein is more pithily known as "Cowboy Toilet Paper".

Mullein is a plant with a long and varied history of use (Pliny the Elder describes it in Naturalis Historia) and it is still often available in health and herbal stores. Both the leaves and flowers contain mucilage, which is soothing to irritated membranes, and saponins, which make coughs more productive. “Quaker rouge” refers to the practice of reddening cheeks by rubbing them with a mullein leaf, and a yellow dye extracted from the flowers has been used since Roman times as a hair rinse as well as to dye cloth. (I totally tried the whole Quaker rouge thing before I even learned that phrase just because they looked so cozy... a little scratchy, but also kind of pleasant. You just can't help it. This plant's leaves are like a snuggly blanket.)

1 comment:

  1. Excellent description of the clumps versus rosettes! You are becoming quite the botanist!