One of mullein’s country names was ‘the candlewick plant’, so called because the thick down was rubbed off the plant and used to make the wicks in lamps and candles.
Mullein, verbascum thapsus, is a tall, attractive biennial herb and a lovely plant to grow at the back of the border. In the first year a flat rosette of large, thick, downy, green leaves appears. Mullein grows wild on waste ground, along country lanes and by hedgerows. In the second year each plant produces one stout stem which grows up to 5 ft (I .5 metres) high. The brilliant yellow flowers, blooming from June to August, grow in dense profusion on the long spikes at the top of the stems and the whole plant, including the flower, is covered with fine hairs. The seedpods, when ripe, are hard and full of seeds which eventually fall round the plant so that it self-sows quite freely.
To grow mullein in the garden, sow the seed in October when it is ripe in well-drained ordinary soil in a sunny spot well sheltered from the wind, Mullein seeds can also be sown in a frame in April, pricked out when large enough, and set into their flowering positions in September. The plants may need protection from slugs, which have a particular liking for mullein.
It is the flowers of the mullein which are used in the home for internal use, but young leaves can be used for external treatments. The leaves carry too many hairs for them to be taken internally. The flowers for drying are gathered on a dry day when fully open and the blooms are perfect. The young leaves can be picked at any time during the season. They are dried and stored separately in the usual way. It is important when drying the flowers that they retain their bright yellow colour otherwise they lose their medicinal value. They have a sweetish pleasant taste.
Mullein is one of the most useful herbs for chest complaints and mullein tea can be taken two or three times a day for persistent coughs and chesty colds. Mullein is also slightly sedative and a glass of hot tea taken last thing at night will usually help those who cannot sleep.
* To make the tea: Pour 1 cupful of boiling water on to 1 heaped teaspoon of dried or fresh flowers. Leave to infuse until the tea is a strong yellow colour, which will take about 10 minutes, then strain and drink warm. It is important to strain the tea most carefully through very fine muslin or cheesecloth to make sure none of the hairs are left in the infusion. Make the tea fresh each time.
Mullein tea can be used as a lotion to bathe cuts and abrasions, for mild burns and for skin rashes. The lotion is more effective as a compress. Dip pieces of lint into the lotion and spread it over the affected part, pressing it lightly on to the skin. Renew the compress as necessary or until relief for the condition is obtained.
A poultice made from fresh leaves can be applied to the chest to relieve congestion and also to loosen a stubborn cough.
* To make a poultice: Pound a quantity of leaves to a pulp either by hand or in an electric blender. Spread the pulp carefully between 2 large pieces of muslin or cheesecloth and heat it over a pan of boiling water. When it is sufficiently hot, place it over the chest and cover it with a further cloth to keep the heat in. Leave in place until the poultice loses its heat and keep renewing as needed.
A decoction of flowers, dried or fresh, can be effective when used as a gargle for throat complaints, tonsillitis and laryngitis and it is good for easing hoarseness and soreness of the throat.
* To make the decoction: Add a cupful of water to a handful of dried or fresh flowers in an enamel pan. Bring it slowly to the boil and simmer for 3—5 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain carefully through fine muslin or cheesecloth. As a warm gargle the decoction can be used freely until relief from irritation and soreness is obtained.
A poultice made from fresh mullein leaves with milk is an effective remedy for boils, whitlows and virulent spots. The action of the poultice brings them to a head and with the pus removed the pain and swelling is considerably eased.
* To make a poultice for skin complaints: Place a handful of fresh or dried leaves in a pan with sufficient milk to cover. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain, reserving the milk, and either place the leaves directly on the infected spot or spread them on to a piece of muslin or cheesecloth. Renew the poultice and apply until relief is felt. The poultice is also helpful to those suffering from chilblains and the milk in which the leaves have been boiled can be used to bathe painful haemorrhoids (piles).
Mullein oil can be used to stop irritation and relieve chilblains and haemorrhoids (piles). It is soothing and softening and will help to heal painful bruises.
* To make the oil: Put as many mullein flowers as possible into a small glass jar. Fill the jar with olive or almond oil, covering the flowers completely. Cover the jar with a piece of muslin or cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band. Stand the jar on a sunny windowsill or in the greenhouse for 3—4 weeks until it is a strong yellow colour, Shake the jar occasionally. Finally strain the oil carefully through several layers of fine muslin or cheesecloth into a stoppered bottle. Use to bathe the piles or the chilblains whenever they are painful.
Sufferers from a stuffy head cold and congestion will find that an inhalation of mullein flowers can provide effective and immediate relief.
* To make an inhalation: Pour a cupful of boiling water over a handful of flowers in a bowl. Place a towel over the head and bowl and inhale the fumes for 10 minutes or until relief is felt. Afterwards wipe down the face with a towel and stay indoors in the warm for at least I hour.
* Fresh crushed mullein flowers applied directly to warts have been used to help in curing this unsightly problem.