Mullein was one one of the first wild plants growing around the land that I learnt to identify due to its characteristic and easily recognisable appearance that made it easy to get a positive ID. This beautiful plant isn't just aesthetic, but has a myriad of uses and benefits that I slowly discovered as I developed a relationship with it, incorporating it into my daily life. This post covers most of the significant ways in which I've personally benefitted from this wonderful plant.
Mullein is a biennial plant, meaning it has two separate growth stages occurring over the course of two years. In its first year, mullein grows light-green coloured velvety textured leaves that grow in a rosette shaped pattern from the ground. One of the most distinguishing features of this plant is the texture of the leaves which is almost unmistakable. The fuzzy soft leaves give mullein its nickname of cowboy toilet paper, and I can tell you from experience that if you're going to poop in the wild, the softness of the mullein leaf makes for the best wipe nature has to offer.
A mullein plant in its first year of growth
In the second year, the mullein plant doesn't grow large leaves anymore and instead sends out a long stalk that can grow up to 6 feet in height on which tiny yellow flowers grow. The plant then lives for perhaps another year or so before, the stalk dries up and the leaves fall.
A mullein plant in its second year of growth with the characteristic long stalk
The yellow flowers growing on a mullein stalk
There are so many uses for mullein that I'm going to split them up into different categories to cover the myriad ways this beautiful plant can be used.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of mullein's medical roles is that of an expectorant, which in non medical terms is its ability to remove mucus from the lungs. It soothes coughs and colds and can even be used as a healthier replacement for tobacco. I've personally used it both to smoke and to drink in tea and have experienced how it clears out my lungs. Especially now, during a world wide pandemic, I'm grateful that my lungs are in good health thanks to mullein.
Mullein smokes and mullein tea are bound to be good for me
I also used to add other herbs and wild plants to mullein leaves to make myself an immunity boosting concoction for good health which made me feel like a Harry Potter character, brewing up potions.
Other than its benefit in improving lung health, mullein has a wide variety of other medical uses. According to RXlist, mullein is good for ' cough, whooping cough, tuberculosis, bronchitis, hoarseness, pneumonia, earaches, colds, chills, flu, swine flu, fever, allergies, tonsillitis, and sore throat. Other uses include asthma, diarrhea, colic, gastrointestinal bleeding, migraines, joint pain, and gout. It is also used as a sedative and as a diuretic to increase urine output.'
That's quite the list of ailments mullein can help cure! Not only does it provide these benefits, but does so at every stage of it's life. Dried mullein root can be powdered up and consumed which along side the lung benefits is a cure for diarrhea and promotes bowel health. The yellow mullein flowers can be collected and soaked in oil which makes a concoction that can be used as ear drops for ear aches. All from this single magnificent plant, and it doesn't end there, oh no, for there are several other non medical uses.
A Friend For Flames
Mullein is a plant that continues to give, even after it is dead. The dried stalk is excellent for fire related activities. Ancient Romans used to use the dried mullein stalk dipped in tallow to make torches. As I didn't have any tallow, I substituted that for vegatable oil with impressive results.
Burn baby burn!
My mullein torch lasted a good couple hours until it extinguished. I'm yet to experiment with using tallow like the Ancient Romans or with wax from candles or crayons that are all allegedly good substitutes. I can vouch for any oil you might have in your kitchen though and was so pleased with this natural torch that mullein provided me.
If you don't want a fiery torch, for example if you're indoors, and can't afford to jump around like a excitable critter wielding fire sticks like I did, mullein has you covered again. The tips of leaves from the mullein plant make for excellent wicks to use in oil lamps. No preparation is needed. Just dip the leaf in oil, and light it and you're good to go.
Unlike the torch this lamp keeps burning as long as there's enough oil in the lamp's oil reservoir. I once kept a lamp burning for an entire night and only had to top it up once after it drained.
Mullein also makes a great fire starter for regular fires with a constantly burning torch to help light up damp or wet wood. The dried out stalk is also more or less cylindrical so makes for a good fire starter using friction based methods if you don't have matches or lighters on hand. I've not personally tried this but can imagine a hand drill with mullein stalk on flint would be great to start fires in survival scenarios.
Mullein is also useful in your garden. Permies lists it as a nitrogen fixing plant. Growing it or transplanting it along side other plants in your garden will help them grow better as it makes nitrogen available to these plants without having to resort to fertilisers.
Mullein growing alongside other plants in my overgrown garden, more on this later
Mullein helping out our guava tree
Remember how I told you that Ancient Romans used to use mullein torches? Apparently they were used in funeral processions, which in my opinion is one of the reasons mullein has a connection to the underworld. Mullein is said to be able to banish negative entities and offer courage and protection to those who use it. I've made smudge sticks from mullein and felt a powerful energy cleanse after using them. This plant is definitely a Great Plant Teacher that has a lot to offer whatever your spiritual beliefs may be.
This is actually a mugwort smudge stick but mullein sticks are made in a similar way
So there you have it, one plant, many uses. I hope you found this post useful. If you see mullein growing in your area, try using it in one of the ways mentioned. This was eye opening for me because I realised that a weed is just labelled so because of its location and not because of its usefulness. I was amazed at discovering so many uses for just a single plant which was also the first of many plants around me that I learnt to identify. Keep an eye out for mullein if you come across it. It's a beautiful plant to have around.
Fields of mullein growing wild in the area