Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It's Mullein!

Mullein, originally uploaded by baltimoreDIY.

It's great to have friends at the National Wildlife Federation. After posting my query, I received a speedy reply, and promptly went to Wikipedia and Botanical.com for scientific, historical and cultural information.

Answer: It turns out this plant is Verbascum thapsus L., or Great Mullein.

Mullein has many different historic uses. The leaves and flowers are smoked or taken as a tea to relieve chest problems and as a relaxing sedative. Like many herbs, the plant contains coumarin (a blood thinner) and is said to have antibacterial properties.

Very mullein-specific uses: The huge flower stalk was often dipped in tallow and used as a torch. The hairy leaves were stuffed into shoes for warmth.

Another interesting mullein fact is that the seeds of the plant contain the chemical rotenone, and were used by Native Americans to stun fish so they could be caught. It has been used as an organic insecticide, but I believe it was recently removed from the list of approved organic pesticides because of safety concerns. More info can be found on this Cornell site.

In any case, I'm planning on collecting some dried flowers, leaves, and seedpods from these plants. I'll most likely make the leaves and flowers into a tea, since there probably isn't enough material to distill an essential oil. I could make a tincture as well, but I've decided to make more teas than tinctures, since the tincture contains a lot of grain alcohol. The flowers can also be used in an herbal smoking mix. In any case, it's fun to collect this stuff now in case I need it around, and once it's dried or preserved in alcohol, the chemical properties will keep for a little while. Yet another jar in my steadily growing herbal collection.

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