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verbascum thapsus L.
Plantae; Spermatophyta, Angiospermae - Flowering Plants; Dicotyledonae; Lamiidae / Tubiflorae; Scrophulariales; Scrophulariaceae - Snapdragon Family
Introduced by Hahnemann, in 1821 R. AM L., VI; Allen: Encyclop. Mat. Med., Vol. X, 114; Clarke: A Dicationary of Practical. Mat. Med., Vol. III 1526.
Description of the substance
---Habitat---Verbascum thapsus (Linn.), the Great Mullein, is a widely distributed plant, being found all over Europe and in temperate Asia as far as the Himalayas, and in North America is exceedingly abundant as a naturalized weed in the eastern States. It is met with throughout Britain (except in the extreme north of Scotland) and also in Ireland and the Channel Islands, on hedge-banks, by roadsides and on waste ground, more especially on gravel, sand or chalk. It flowers during July and August. The natural order Scrophulariaceae is an important family of plants comprising 200 genera and about 2,500 species, occurring mostly in temperate and sub-tropical regions, many of them producing flowers of great beauty, on which account they are frequently cultivated among favourite garden and greenhouse flowers. Of this group are the Calceolaria, Mimulus, Penstemon, Antirrhinum and Collinsia. Among its British representatives it embraces members so diverse as the Foxglove and Speedwell, the Mullein and Figworts, the Toadflax and the semi-parasites, Eyebright, Bartsia, Cowwheat, and the Red and Yellow Rattles.
Most of the flowers are capable of selffertilization in default of insect visits.
Unlike the Labiatae, to which they are rather closely related, plants belonging to this order seldom contain much volatile oil, though resinous substances are common. The most important constituents are glucosides, and many of them are poisonous or powerfully active.
A number of the Scrophulariaceae are or have been valued for their curative properties and are widely employed both in domestic and in regular medicine.
The genus Verbascum, to which the Mullein belongs, contains 210 species, distributed in Europe, West and Central Asia and North Africa, six of which are natives of Great Britain. The Mulleins, like the Veronicas, are exceptions to the general character of the Scrophulariaceae, having nearly regular, open corollas, the segments being connected only towards the base, instead of having the more fantastic flowers of the Snapdragon and others. They are all tall, stout biennials, with large leaves and flowers in long, terminal spikes.
---Description---In the first season of the plant's growth, there appears only a rosette of large leaves, 6 to 15 inches long, in form somewhat like those of the Foxglove, but thicker - whitish with a soft, dense mass of hairs on both sides, which make them very thick to the touch. In the following spring, a solitary, stout, pale stem, with tough, strong fibres enclosing a thin rod of white pith, arises from the midst of the felted leaves. Its rigid uprightness accounts for some of the plant's local names: 'Aaron's Rod,' 'Jupiter's' or 'Jacob's Staff,' etc.
The leaves near the base of the stem are large and numerous, 6 to 8 inches long and 2 to 2 1/2 inches broad, but become smaller as they ascend the stem, on which they are arranged not opposite to one another, but on alternate sides. They are broad and simple in form, the outline rather waved, stalkless, their bases being continued some distance down the stem, as in the Comfrey and a few other plants, the midrib from a quarter to half-way up the blade being actually joined to the stem. By these 'decurrent' leaves (as this hugging of the stem by the leaves is botanically termed) the Great Mullein is easily distinguished from other British species of Mullein - some with white and some with yellow flowers. The leaf system is so arranged that the smaller leaves above drop the rain upon the larger ones below, which direct the water to the roots. This is a necessary arrangement, since the Mullein grows mostly on dry soils. The stellately-branched hairs which cover the leaves so thickly act as a protective coat, checking too great a giving off of the plant's moisture, and also are a defensive weapon of the plant, for not only do they prevent the attacks of creeping insects, but they set up an intense irritation in the mucous membrane of any grazing animals that may attempt to browse upon them, so that the plants are usually left severely alone by them. The leaves are, however, subject to the attacks of a mould, Peronospora sordida. The hairs are not confined to the leaves alone, but are also on every part of the stem, on the calyces and on the outside of the corollas, so that the whole plant appears whitish or grey. The homely but valuable Mullein Tea, a remedy of the greatest antiquity for coughs and colds, must indeed always be strained through fine muslin to remove any hairs that may be floating in the hot water that has been poured over the flowers, or leaves, for otherwise they cause intolerable itching in the mouth.
Towards the top of the stalk, which grows frequently 4 or even 5 feet high, and in gardens has been known to attain a height of 7 or 8 feet, the much-diminished woolly leaves merge into the thick, densely crowded flower-spike, usually a foot long, the flowers opening here and there on the spike, not in regular progression from the base, as in the Foxglove. The flowers are stalkless, the sulphur-yellow corolla, a somewhat irregular cup, nearly an inch across, formed of five rounded petals, united at the base to form a very short tube, being enclosed in a woolly calyx, deeply cut into five lobes. The five stamens stand on the corolla; three of them are shorter than the other two and have a large number of tiny white hairs on their filaments. These hairs are full of sap, and it has been suggested that they form additional bait to the insect visitors, supplementing the allurement of the nectar that lies round the base of the ovary. All kinds of insects are attracted by this plant, the Honey Bee, Humble Bee, some of the smaller wild bees and different species of flies, since the nectar and the staminal hairs are both so readily accessible, though the supply of nectar is not very great. The three short hairy stamens have only short, one-celled anthers - the two longer, smooth ones have larger anthers. The pollen sacs have an orangered inner surface, disclosed as the anthers open.
In some species, Verbascum nigrum, the Dark Mullein, and V. blattaria, the Moth Mullein, the filament hairs are purple. The rounded ovary is hairy and also the lower part of the style. The stigma is mature before the anthers and the style projects at the moment the flower opens, so that any insect approaching it from another blossom where it has got brushed by pollen, must needs strike it on alighting and thus insure crossfertilization, though, failing this, the flower is also able to fertilize itself. The ripened seed capsule is very hard and contains many seeds, which eventually escape through two valves and are scattered round the parent plant.
In its first year, it produces a rosette of large, softly hairy grey-green leaves 10-50 cm long. The outer leaves are supine and, working inwards, the leaves become more and more vertical. In the spring of the second year, the strong flowering stem, 2-3 cm thick, is produced from the center and can reach heights of 1.5-2 m. The stem leaves are alternate, clasping a long part of the stem. The stem ends in a dense spike composed of yellow flowers 1.5-3.5 cm wide, opening from bottom to top. The fruit is a dry capsule, containing numerous small seeds.
The flowers are visited by Megachilid bees, bumblebees, and carpenter bees for their copious yellow pollen.
The seeds are consumed by some birds (such as the Goldfinch) and the leaves by various insects. It host mildews, the cucumber mosaic virus and the tarnished plant bug.
Distribution, cultivation and uses
A closeup of the flowersAn old French expression "to plant mulleins" meant "to work for nothing". The plant has nonetheless been cultivated worldwide for its medicinal properties. The flower provides green and brown tints, the latter of which was used by Romans for their hair. The fuzz on the leaves was woven into candle wicks.
However, the most widespread beliefs about common mullein is that burning it protected against evil spirits and demons. This belief was widespread across western Christianity and mullein was burnt during celebrations on the second Sunday of Lent in France ("Dimanche des brandons").
It is an introduced naturalized species in North America (17th century), Australia, Chile, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is not normally considered an invasive species, because its biennial cycle and easy direct removal (unlike Dandelions, it cannot regrow from its root) makes removal easy. It has the status of noxious weed in the states of Colorado and Hawaii, and the state of Victoria, Australia.