Verbascum thapsus (Mullein)

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) in the Scrophulariaceae family is native to Europe, Asia, and north Africa, though as a pioneer species with hundreds of thousands of seeds per plant, it currently grows around the globe. Modeling how to occupy disturbed land, this plant brings many benefits to others. Mullein grows in dry, sandy soils, often in wasteland places, where it actively decreases soil erosion. Two distinct shapes and sizes emerge across the two-year growing cycle, a rosette of soft furry leaves appears in the first year, and in the second, a stalk shoots up, 6-8 feet in height. The change from ground-hugging soft rosette to tall spear-like being is dramatic. Small yellow flowers with red-tipped stigma bloom along the stems’ length, opening at different intervals, and thus feeding pollinators from spring to fall. Flowers close at night time, and can self-pollinate. A group of them looks like an assembly having a good chat. Butterflies, moths and bees love mullein’s nectar.

The name, Dr Pryor wrote in The Popular Names of British Plants, derives from the Latin ‘malandrium’ or malanders or leprosy, and this plant is a valued medicinal for the lungs and bowels, for asthma, bleeding, diarrhea, bone setting and is sedative, demulcent, and narcotic. The tall stems make excellent torches and the leaves make wicks, which corresponds to a historical association with witches (who may have utilized the plant thus). In magical lore, the plant is feminine and associated with fire, and with Saturn, Mercury, and Jupiter. Mullein feels very present, very conscious, and across Europe and Asia, mullein was used to protect against evil spirits and spells. Some say Odysseus brought mullein on his journey and used it as protection from Circe and her bewitchment. It was introduced to the United States in the 1700’s as a fish poison.

Elizabeth Oriel 2022