Great mullein (Verbascum Thapsus – also known as Aaron’s rod, Adam’s flannel and Our Lady’s candles) is a relatively common plant on wasteland and verges.
This tough biennial produces a rosette of woolly leaves in its first year around a tall stalk. In its second summer, this is adorned with clusters of five-petalled yellow flowers and in the autumn these develop to produce 150,000 seeds.
Mullein has long been used to treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, catarrh and hoarseness. This used to be done by smoking the dried leaves, but today herbalists generally favour an infusion of the leaves. It is also a mild sedative and the rather astringent root can be turned into another tea to treat diarrhea and bleeding or as an eye wash. The leaves can also be used as a soothing bandage for sores, cuts, and skin inflammation.
Some say the sedative properties of the seeds can be harnessed to produce an infusion with which to stun fish – although it is difficult to see how one could produce enough to active ingredients to work in anything bigger than the smallest pond.
In fact, when one looks at its myriad of uses, it seems too good to be true. Why have a well-stocked medicine cabinet when mullein seems able to plug so many gaps? It does, however, have an unquestionably highly practical use which anyone can put to the test. Its soft, mildly anaesthetic leaves make a fantastic natural toilet paper (indeed, Richard Mabey notes a modern common name is ‘the Andrex plant’).