Verbascum thapsus, the great mullein or common mullein, is a species of mullein native to Europe, northern Africa, and Asia, and introduced in the Americas and Australia.
It is a hairy biennial plant that can grow to 2 m tall or more. Its small, yellow flowers are densely grouped on a tall stem, which grows from a large rosette of leaves.
It grows in a wide variety of habitats but prefers well-lit, disturbed soils, where it can appear soon after the ground receives light, from long-lived seeds that persist in the soil seed bank.
It is a common weedy plant that spreads by prolifically producing seeds, but it rarely becomes aggressively invasive, since its seeds require an open ground to germinate.
It is a very minor problem for most agricultural crops, since it is not a very competitive species, being intolerant of shade from other plants and unable to survive to till.
It also hosts many insects, some of which can be harmful to other plants. Although individuals are easy to remove by hand, populations are difficult to eliminate permanently.
It is widely used for herbal remedies, with well-established emollient and astringent properties. Mullein remedies are especially recommended for coughs and related problems but also used in topical applications against a variety of skin problems. The plant has also been used to make dyes and torches.
Distribution and habitat
Verbascum thapsus has a wide native range including Europe, northern Africa, and Asia, from the Azores and Canary Islands east to western China, north to the British Isles, Scandinavia and Siberia, and south to the Himalayas.
In northern Europe, it grows from sea level up to 1,850 m altitude, while in China it grows at 1,400–3,200 m altitude.
It has been introduced throughout the temperate world and is established as a weed in Australia, New Zealand, tropical Asia, La Réunion, North America, Hawaii, Chile, Hispaniola, and Argentina. It has also been reported in Japan.
In the United States, it was imported very early in the 18th century and cultivated for its medicinal and piscicide properties. By 1818, it had begun spreading so much that Amos Eaton thought it was a native plant.
In 1839 it was already reported in Michigan and in 1876, in California. It is now found commonly in all the states. In Canada, it is most common in the Maritime Provinces as well as southern Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, with scattered populations in between.
Great mullein most frequently grows as a colonist of bare and disturbed soil, usually on sandy or chalky ones. It grows best in dry, sandy or gravelly soils, although it can grow in a variety of habitats, including banksides, meadows, roadsides, forest clearings, and pastures.
This ability to grow in a wide range of habitats has been linked to strong phenotype variation rather than adaptation capacities.
Great mullein has been used since ancient times as a remedy for skin, throat and breathing ailments.
It has long had a medicinal reputation, especially as an astringent and emollient, as it contains mucilage, several saponins, coumarin, and glycosides.
Dioscorides recommended it for diseases of the lung and it is now widely available in health and herbal stores. Non-medical uses have included dyeing and making torches.
Dioscorides first recommended the plant 2000 years ago, against pulmonary diseases, and this has remained one of its primary uses, especially against a cough.
Leaf decoctions or herbal teas were used for expectoration, consumption, dry cough, bronchitis, sore throat and hemorrhoids. Leaves were also smoked against pulmonary ailments, a tradition that in America was rapidly transmitted to Native American peoples.
The Zuni people, however, use the plant in poultices of powdered root applied to sores, rashes and skin infections. An infusion of the root is also used to treat athlete’s foot.
The combination of expectorant saponins and emollient mucilage makes the plant particularly effective for a cough. All preparations meant to be drunk have to be finely filtered to eliminate the irritating hairs.
Oil from the flowers was used against catarrhs, colics and, in Germany, earaches, frostbite, eczema and other external conditions.
Topical application of various V. thapsus-based preparations was recommended for the treatment of warts, boils, carbuncles, hemorrhoids, and chilblains, amongst others. Recent studies have found that great mullein contains glycyrrhizin compounds with bactericide and potential anti-tumoral action.
These compounds are concentrated in the flowers. The German Commission E sanctioned the medicinal use of the plant for catarrhs.
It was also part of the National Formulary in the United States and the United Kingdom. The plant’s leaves, in addition to the seeds, have been reported to contain rotenone, although quantities are unknown.
Like many ancient medicinal plants (Pliny the Elder describes it in his Naturalis Historia), great mullein was linked to witches, although the relationship remained generally ambiguous, and the plant was also widely held to ward off curses and evil spirits.
The seeds contain several compounds (saponins, glycosides, coumarin, rotenone) that are toxic to fish, and have been widely used as piscicide for fishing.
The flowers provide dyes of bright yellow or green and have been used for hair dye. The dried leaves and hair were made into candle wicks or put into shoes to help with insulating them.
The dried stems were also dipped into suet or wax to make torches. Due to its weedy capacities, the plant, unlike other species of the genus (such as V. phoeniceum), is not often cultivated.
The stalk can also be dried as a spindle for making fire either by hand drill or bow drill.
*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.