Verbascum thapsus or Common Mullein: A medicinally important plant of the hills

No sooner the monsoon hits the dusty hill slopes of the hillside of Landour, Mussoorie. The tiny seeds of common Mullein germinate and peek through the picturesque landscape . Commonly known as Adam’s flannel, Beggar’s blanket and even the Candlewick plant, it is a riveting sight to see this enthralling plant species blooming in the wild. It also resembles a monkey tail and locally it’s known as ‘Bandarpuchre’ . The leaves appear to me as if I am touching Goat’s ear, soft and fluffy. I call it the Goat’s ear plant.

© Verbascum thapsus flowers

One can come across Mullein growing along the roadside, agricultural lands and backyard at this altitude. The flowers are in full bloom these days. The blooming flowers spiral up the stalk emerge from the velvety rosette of leaves. Besides it’s occurrence in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand I found this plant growing in its natural habitat in the remote village of Mana near Badrinath and Gangotri also.

© Mullein growing abundantly in Mana village, Uttarakhand

According to old superstition it’s believed that witches used lamps and candles provided with wicks of Mullein in their incantations. Still in rural parts of Europe and Asia, Mullein is used to drive away evil spirits. Being a sure safeguard against evil spirits and magic, and from the ancient classics, it was this plant which Ullysess took to protect himself against the wiles of Circe.  

© Verbascum thapsus

Verbascum thapsus (L.) is a biennial, perennial or, rarely, an annual with a deep tap root. In its first year it produces a low vegetative rosette up to 60 cm in diameter which overwinters and is followed in the succeeding growing season by a stout flowering stem 5-18 dm tall. V. thapsus is native to Europe and Asia (Semenza et al. 1978). Although the leaves and flowers can be foraged, the hairy leaves can sometimes cause irritation. Some say that the seeds are poisonous. The numerous tiny seeds lay dormant in the soil and sprouts when the favorable season arrives.

© Mullein peeking through the landscape

Since ancient times V. thapsus has been used as an anodyne pectoral and remedy for coughs and diarrhoea. The leaves may provide some stimulatory effects when smoked. Mullein was recorded by Aristotle as a fish poison. It is often grown as an ornamental. A methanol extract from the plant has been effective against mosquito larvae (Gross and Werner, 1978). Mullein is currently found in neglected meadows and pasture lands, along fence rows and roadsides. It occurs in areas where the mean annual precipitation is 50 – 150 cm and the growing season is at least 140 days. Mullein is easily outcompeted in areas with a densely vegetated ground cover but readily grows in disturbed sites. Because of its low dispersal rate, the establishment of mullein in a particular site depends primarily on the presence of dormant seeds in the soils. It is an ephemeral plant which is eventually displaced by other plants in undisturbed sites. In Uttarakhand, the population of the target species is scattered. Natural products including medicinal plants have a great significance due to their wide range of therapeutic potential to treat a large number of ailments,

© Mullein growing near farmland

Ecological Threat
Once established it grows quickly to form a dense ground cover. It can overtake and displace native species. At the high densities, it appears to prevent establishment of native herbs and grasses following fires or other disturbances. Verbascum thapsus occurs in areas with an average annual precipitation of 20-60 in. (0.5-1.5 m) and a 140-day growing season. It prefers well-drained soils with pH 6.5 to 7.8. It prefers dry sandy soils but can grow in chalk and limestone. It can be found in neglected meadows, forest openings, pastures, fence rows, roadsides, and industrial areas. Verbascum thapsus has the ability to adapt to a variety of site conditions. It grows more vigorously than native herbs and shrubs. V. thapsus threatens natural meadows and forest openings. It is a prolific seed bearer with seeds remaining viable for long periods in the soil.

© Verbascum thapsus in its natural habitat

Mullein has been used as an alternative medicine for centuries, and in many countries throughout the world, the value of Great Mullein as a proven medicinal herb is now backed by scientific evidence. Some valuable constituents contained in Mullein are Coumarin and Hesperidin, they exhibit many healing abilities. An infusion is taken internally in the treatment of a wide range of chest complaints and also to treat diarrhoea and bleeding of the lungs and bowels. Mullein oil is a very medicinal and valuable destroyer of disease germs. An infusion of the flowers in olive oil is used as earache drops, or as a local application in the treatment of piles and other mucous membrane inflammations.

© Somewhere near Mana village, Alaknanda river

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Published by Dr. Chandrima Debi

Hi, I am Chandrima Debi. I am a Doctorate in Forestry and an independent researcher. Ever since childhood, I experienced deep-rooted connection with nature, forest and wildlife. I have written various research articles, case studies based on geology, forests, medicinal plants, biodiversity and conservation. Through this blog I share my experiences with nature and forests around us and aid towards the protection and conservation of biodiversity, wildlife and the values associated.

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