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Helpful Herbs: Mullein

Mullein is an attractive plant with velvety leaves and pleasant, rosette-like flowers. An ancient helpful herb, Mullein has been part of healing gardens for centuries and continues to help gardeners today.

Mullein is extremely easy to grow. Frequently started from seed, it will grow heartily and spread quickly if the rosettes of flowers aren't clipped back regularly. They can grow quite tall, up to five feet, and may overwinter if you select a hearty variety. The long stalks of blossoms in pink, yellow, or white colors are very pretty and add a dash of color to the pale green plant.

It is best to harvest Mullein when the flowers are blooming. Stalks and leaves can be dried or used fresh, and even the seeds are useful.

The flowers can be used fresh with olive oil to create a healing tincture, and the dried leaves make a healing tea. Additionally, Mullein is mixed in various lotions and potions and capsules of dried Mullein leaves are sold at health food stores as dietary supplements.

The history of Mullein in medicinal circles is long. The plant was first recommended over 2000 years ago by Dioscorides for its ability to battle coughs and infections. That is the most common use of Mullein today, especially as a tea for soothing chest colds and bronchitis. Infusions of Mullein are used to treat other infections, and it has anti-inflammatory properties as well. Mullein salves and pollutices can help heal rashes and bruises, and can also help to reduce swelling. Perhaps its most well known property is in treating an ear infection, which the oil is commonly used for.

Creek Indians would use teas of Mullein to treat coughs and would smoke the dried leaves as a cure for asthma. The Cherokee tribe would rub fresh Mullein leaves on rashes, and since Roman times its leaves have been used as a dye to yellow both cloth and hair. Used by Romans to treat many diseases of the lungs, an infusion of Mullein was also a treatment for colics and frostbite in the Middle Ages.

In the classic novel Love in the Time of Cholera, author Gabriel Garcia Marquez talks of using Mullein for fishing, as the chemicals in the plant would react with the water, and those compounds would have a numbing effect on the fish causing them to rise to the surface. Mullein also served a vital role as a primitive candle. The stalks, which are long and can be dipped in wax, can be used as torches and will burn slowly. Dried stalks can be used to make fire and is also sometimes used as an incense.

Also known as "Jacob's Staff", Mullein makes an attractive and self sufficient addition to the herb garden, and you can rely on its leaves and flowers to help heal you in many ways.


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