Verbascum thapsus | ‘Great Mullein’, ‘Mullein’ | ~500+ seeds
Verbascum thapsus – most commonly known as the ‘Common Mullein’, ‘Great Mullein’ or simply, ‘Mullein’ – is a green to bronze-coloured species of the genus Verbascum. Native to northern Africa, Asia and Europe, thapsus is widely-used as a medicinal plant in indigenous and herbal medicine. Consequently, this popularity has given rise to innumerable informal names for the species over the years, including ‘Aaron’s Rod’, ‘Adam’s Flannel’, ‘Beggar’s Blanket’, ‘Blanket Mullein’, ‘Bullicks Lungwort’, ‘Cowboy Toilet Paper’, ‘Feltwort’, ‘Hare’s Beard’, ‘Hig Candlewick’, ‘Ice Leaf’, ‘Indian Rag Weed’, ‘Mullein Dock’, ‘Poor Man’s Blanket’, ‘Shepherd’s Club’, ‘Velvet Mullein’, ‘Wild Verbascum’ and ‘Woolly Mullein’.
‘Mullein’ is a hairy biennial that can reach up to three metres tall, forming large rosettes of thick, variably-shaped leaves up to roughly fifty centimetres long and fourteen centimetres wide. Although the entire plant is covered with star-shaped trichomes, the leaves are especially hairy, resulting in their beautifully delicate silvery sheen. Dense spikes of small, yellow flowers (roughly one and a half to three centimetres wide) bloom from mid-spring to late summer, covering up to half the length of Mullein’s stem, starting from the bottom of the plant and working their way progressively upward. Ovoid seed pods around five or six millimetres around follow the flowers, splitting to reveal many tiny (less than a millimetre round), brown, ridged seeds.
Thapsus grows across USDA Hardiness Zones 4-10 in a wide range of habitats. Preferring disturbed, chalky, gravelly or sandy soils in a well-lit location, the species frequently colonises places such as meadows, roadsides, pastures and woodland clearings. Because of the greatly varying morphology of the species, a number of subspecies have been described (and subsequently debated/merged/retired!). Taxonomists currently generally agree on three ‘Mullein’ subspecies; Verbascum thapsus subsp. thapsus (the type species), Verbascum thapsus subsp. crassifolium/montanum (found in the Mediterranean and in parts of Austria) and Verbascum thapsus subsp. giganteum (endemic to Spain). These can all be told apart by close scrutiny of the leaves and flowers.
Popularly used in traditional herbal medicine since ancient times, both fresh and dried Mullein has been used as an astringent and emollient, as well as in the production of dyes and in candle and torch-making. It’s also found widespread employment in various forms (including its oil) to treat various breathing, throat and skin conditions. Moreover, toxic compounds in the plant’s seeds makes them useful as a fish poison for various indigenous cultures, while its dried stalk has been used as a fire-making spindle.
Verbascum thapsus seeds are reported to remain viable for up to one hundred years. They’re fairly easy to germinate and grow from seed, although do so almost solely in bare soil, when exposed to light and at an ambient temperature of between 10 °C and 40 °C. Plant in full sun to partial shade in neutral to alkaline soil, allowing approximately one metre within which each plant can reach maturity.
All the seed sold by Arkham’s Botanical was freshly and ethically sourced in 2018