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ORRIN MORRIS: Mullein used as remedy for warts, bronchitis, whooping cough

It is especially gratifying to hear readers of these columns express excitement about discovering a new wildflower. May we always praise God as the Psalmist did, "And men shall speak of the power of Thine awesome acts; and I will tell of Thy greatness (Psalm 145:6)."

To view another wonder that God has given us, we must journey to the meadows of our area to examine this week's wildflower.COMMON MULLEIN

Verbascum thapsusFarmers that I've known hated mullein. They did everything they could to rid their pastures of it. The plant's rough "hair" irritates the throats and stomachs of cattle.

Mullein has about 40 folk names and a long list of uses spanning many generations worldwide. One source stated that this was an Old World immigrant that quickly adapted to the Americas. Whatever might be the case, this wildflower has attracted a lot of attention.

This plant grows as tall as 8 feet, though most reach about 4 feet. A biennial, it forms a rosette of large woolly leaves at ground level the first year. In the second year, it sends up a long woolly spike on which leaves periodically form whorls (several leaves attached at the same spot around the stem).

Some of the lower leaves may be over 1 foot long. The length of the leaves shorten as they occur higher up the stem, creating a pyramidical shape.

Densely packed buds form at the top of the spike, with only a few opening at one time. The blooming season occurs from June through September.

Common mullein prefers open spaces such as roadsides, pastures, and waste places. This plant grows throughout all North America from Mexico to Canada. It has survived into central Alaska, enduring the rigors of severe cold, to complete the two-year cycle.

The pale green leaves were used by Native Americans to cover holes in the bottom of moccasins. Colonialists smoked the leaves to ease asthma attacks. Quaker maidens, forbidden to use makeup, rubbed their cheeks with them to create a modest blush.

The various uses led to folk names such as our lady's flannel, Adam's flannel and beggar's flannel.

Ancient Romans created candelaria for funeral processions by dipping the tips of the spike in fat and lighting them. Uses of the spike led to folk names including shepherd's club, Aaron's rod and Jacob's staff.

Mullein is special because it has been used as a home remedy for many centuries, even before the European immigrants came. Medicinally, mullein has been used for coughs, bronchitis and whooping cough.

Elsewhere, fresh flowers were crushed in hope that the juice would cure warts.

Other exotic and sinister uses are associated with mullein. For example, it was believed that the seeds were narcotic, and when thrown into ponds, would make the fish easier to catch, according to "The Herb Book," by John Lust. Alas, that trick never did work for me but neither did most of my artificial lures.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. Notecards are available of the wildflowers published in the Citizen. His email is odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com or call him at 770-929-3697.