Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is in full bloom all around Salt Lake City right now- well, the second-year plants are, anyway. This is easily one of my favorite medicinal and magical herbs and I'd like to share some of my favorite aspects of this plant with you here.
GROWTH & IDENTIFICATION
Mullein is a biennial plant which means that it takes two years for it to complete its full life cycle. On the first year during growing season, Mullein appears as a whorl of velvety-soft leaves that spiral along the ground. The leaves are larger than those of another common local plant, Lamb's Ear, and don't attach to a long stem the way Lamb's Ear does. On the second year of growth, Mullein sends up an eye-catching stalk that tapers up with more fuzzy leaves and ends with a burst of popcorn-shaped yellow blossoms. We use every part of the Mullein plant for medicine, but the leaves and flowers are the most common and most used. At the end of the second year's growing season, the plant dies back and relies on tiny black seeds to rest over winter and sprout up for a new tw0-part cycle next year.
Here in Salt Lake City we've all experienced the after-effects of inversion season; and of hot, dry summers. Many of us are left with dry, sore, inflamed lungs that feel as though they need a good slathering of lotion. We also experience lingering coughs and respiratory soreness after seasonal colds and flu which can be incredibly annoying. You feel that you've recovered only to have your lungs continue to give you trouble for weeks on end.
Mullein is my trusted go-to to help with these respiratory situations and many others. Mullein falls into a category of medicinal herbs called demulcent. Demulcent herbs, when steeped as a tea, release a mucilage that soothes, coats, cools, and protects the delicate linings of both the respiratory system and the digestive tract. This soothing, coating effect can create just the right environment for the lungs to do some deep repairative healing while being supported in getting all the gunk out through the coughing process.
In addition to drinking Mullein leaves and flowers as a tea with other lung-loving herbs like Elecampane Root, Hyssop, Holy Basil, and Elder Flowers, it can also be used in medicinal smoking blends and steams as it has for ages.
Mullein can be a good healing ally when the lungs feel dry, stuck, hot, irritated, or weak. For lungs that feel damp, phlegmy/mucousy, wet, rattly, or cold we use other herbs to help balance that situation, often adding a bit of Mullein just to keep things in harmony.
As mentioned above, the first year of Mullein's growth creates a whorl of giant, flannely leaves that rest on the earth. What tends to happen is that the leaves grow in circles of 8 with a leaf pointing at each of the 8 cardinal and intercardinal directions. I often find first-year Mullein with leaves aimed perfectly to the North, East, South, and West and Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest. For this reason, I love working with Mullein to help find direction, get bearing, and decide what the next step in life might be. This is a fantastic plant ally to help us when we aren't sure where to go next- or even where we're at right now in life.
On the second year of growth, that giant stalk shoots skyward and lights up with vibrant yellow flowers. From a distance the stalk can look like a torch set ablaze with yellow blossoms. In ancient days, Mullein was known as Torch Weed, Witch's Torch, and much later on, Jacob's Rod. These folk names all point at the deeper energy of Mullein- that it acts like a torch and helps us find out way in the dark times, when we're lost, or when we simply aren't sure where things are at the moment in any aspect of our lives. At one time in Europe, dried Mullein stalks were dipped in tallow and actually used as flaming torches!
Sitting with Mullein and asking for guidance, carrying Mullein Flowers with you, or taking in Mullein as a tea or smoke with intention are all great ways to receive the medicinal and magical benefits of Great Mullein!