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Cowboy’s Toilet Paper, Our Lady’s Candle, Bunny’s Ear, Beggar’s Blanket, & Quaker’s Rouge are just a few nicknames for Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), a member of the snapdragon family. You will find this fuzzy, biennial plant growing on roadsides and in areas that have been disturbed in almost every state. A pioneer plant, it grows well in any type of soil, enhancing the soil as it grows (nitrogen fixer) which means it is a great plant to keep on your permaculture property for more than just an herbal remedy (or toilet paper emergency). Its water requirements are very low while sunshine is a must, so don’t look for it in shady, moist places.
The first year, no flowers are present, but it is identifiable by a small rosette of fuzzy green leaves which can grow up to 1 foot in length. Because second-year mullein grows so tall (up to 8 feet!) and produces bright yellow flowers which are great for attracting pollinators it will be much easier to identify and harvest. The entire plant is useful for medicinal applications – the leaves, roots, and flowers. For more information on medicinal herbs and many other subjects consider joining our online community.
One of the most common uses for mullein flowers is to make an oil infusion which can be used for ear infection/pain (a couple of drops 3 times a day). To get the best results, I recommend combining it with garlic. This will make a potent and very effective ear remedy. Here is a recipe for mullein/garlic oil drops:
• 1 part mullein flowers
• 1 part garlic crushed (with skin left on)
Put flowers and garlic in a small jar and pour enough olive oil to completely cover. Put the jar in a sunny place, shaking once a day for 2-4 weeks.
Strain the oil through a cheesecloth (there are small hairs on the flowers as well as the leaves that can cause irritation so the cheesecloth will ensure these are removed) and store in a dark jar (preferably one with a dropper), and keep in the fridge for up to one year. When you want to use it, allow it to come to room temperature.
Additionally, strong tea or infusion can be made of the dry leaves to help with congestion in the chest caused by chest colds, asthma and bronchitis. It is a very effective expectorant, loosening phlegm from the lungs, allowing it to be coughed up. It can also be used to rid the lungs of irritants that have been inhaled.
• 1-2 teaspoons dried mullein leaf
• 1 cup water (just off a boil)
• local, raw honey for taste (optional)
• spearmint or lemon balm if desired.
Put dried leaves in a teaball or strainer, pour in hot water and cover the top with a lid or plate. Steep 15 min. Sweeten if desired.
If you can’t tolerate the taste, then you can make a steam inhalant by putting the leaves in a pot of water, boil for 5 min. Remove from the heat and inhale the steam.
On a side note, If you ever are in need of using these large leaves as toilet paper, make sure you wipe WITH the direction of the small hairs and not against or you may end up with a rash!
Another use for mullein which I have not tried, is to dip the stalk in oil and use it as a torch, hence living up to one of its nicknames: “Our Lady’s Candle”. Here’s a really good primer on medicinal herbs.
This is NOT medical advice; this is for educational purposes only. You should always check with your doctor before trying any of these remedies.
Check out our online community for ways to help in your local food movement, learn about more medicinal herbs and much more.
Sean and Monica are available for consulting work regarding property analysis & design, personal coaching and speaking engagements.
All photo credits: Linde Mitzel, P3 Photography
Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and methods for the property. The homestead is a demonstration and education site where they teach workshops and raise dairy goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted food forests, guilds and enjoy wildcrafting and propagating plants. Sean and Monica can often be found podcasting or speaking and teaching at different events. Listen to the podcast and to learn more about the Mitzels, visit The Prepared Homestead. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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