Weed Walk Wednesday: Mullein

Folk names: Candlewick Plant, Feltwort, Flannel Plant, Hag’s Tapers, Hedge Taper, Jupiter’s Staff, Lady’s Foxglove, Shepherd’s Herb, Torches, Velvetback

I'm interrupting the usual Wednesday publication of The Real Green because I couldn’t pass up the alliterative deliciousness of Weed Walk Wednesday!

No, weed walking isn’t about getting stoned while taking walks now that marijuana is legal here in Oregon. It’s about the plants that grow everywhere – plants most people consider weeds – that are actually incredible healing agents. Look in the cracks of the sidewalk outside your house, or your lawn or the abandoned construction site downtown. You will see them everywhere.

That’s what weed walks are about here – noticing the “weeds” that are your neighbors and recognizing them for being more than just weeds.

I've been talking about mullein a lot on my Facebook page. It just happens to be a plant very dear to my heart. This was the very first weed to “speak” to me. A couple years ago, after having studied herbalism for a long time from books and dried herbs, I recognized the deep desire to get to know these plants in their living form, in real life. To actually interact with them and to be able to recognize them.

This little beauty was growing in a neighbor's garden. A few days after I took this picture, the neighbor weeded and pulled this baby right out. RIP Mullein!

This little beauty was growing in a neighbor's garden. A few days after I took this picture, the neighbor weeded and pulled this baby right out. RIP Mullein!

One day, while out walking, I looked across a housing development that had been abandoned when the economy tumbled into ruin and I saw a beautiful, fuzzy, sage-green plant that looked a little like a lotus blossom. I had actually seen these plants everywhere for many years, but had been so conditioned to think of them as weeds that that’s all I saw – a nameless, faceless weed. Suddenly, I knew it was mullein. I felt it reaching out to me, saying, “Know me for who I really am.”

I ran home and googled mullein – I knew what it looked like dried, but wasn’t entirely sure what it looked like when it was alive. But sure enough. There was the “weed” I had seen. Mullein. I felt like it was saying, “I’ve been growing here under your nose for years now and you haven’t noticed me because you didn’t think I had any value. Open your eyes. There are more like me out there.”

She was right – over the years, I began to discover SO many other herbs in their living forms, which has been such an incredible experience. But more than that, I began getting to know them, not just medicinally, but energetically.

I sat in meditation with a handful of mullein last year, and after a while, my hands began burning so much, I had to put the mullein down. I figured the “fuzz” on this plant contained irritants which might explain the topical burning I was experiencing (and sure enough, that’s the case), but my intuition told me to dig deeper than the obvious. I had visions of mullein as a great protector, healing and it told me it could burn the past away, leaving on the good (something I’ve been in great need of this past year). It had an intensely protective, loving, nurturing energy about it that drew me right in.

As I would discover later, it is a plant that is ruled by the element of fire (no surprise there – try holding dried mullein leaves in your hands for 10 minutes and see what happens!) and is associated with courage, protection and love.

My favorite information came to me from herbalist Kiva Rose, who said,

Mullein makes a very appropriate first herbal ally for many children or beginners in herbcraft. Its safe, wise and grounding presence helps take us deeper into not just this its own medicine, but into all herbal medicines. This plant provides itself as a guiding light and guardian for all healers who live within its range. Simultaneously a towering torch herb and fluffy comforter once called Our Lady’s Flannel, it has a long history as a benevolent and nurturing sentinel to healers, children and all those who ask for its assistance. 

After reading that, it made perfect sense to me that mullein would be the first plant to communicate with me in that manner. That’s just how she works.

This is the clump of mullein my friend and I found near a felled tree.

This is the clump of mullein my friend and I found near a felled tree.

A few months after that, while hiking with an herbalist friend, we found a tree that had fallen over, its roots reaching out to the sky. Its root base, now exposed, had become home to a clump of mullein. My friend said she often found mullein growing in places like this – places that had experienced trauma (like a felled tree) and were in need of healing. I thought it was such a beautiful sentiment and only made me love mullein all the more.

Recently, as spring has blossomed, I’ve been noticing new mullein plants coming up alongside sidewalks and in people’s front yards. Again, most people assume this plant is just an annoying weed. But it’s not! (In fact, I am working part-time for an organization in partnership with the US Forest Service – and every summer, our employees go out into the woods and pick mullein because it is considered a noxious weed in this area. If only they’d let all the herbal healers of the area take part in this, take the mullein home and use it for teas and tinctures!)

Mullein is famous for its ability to heal respiratory issues. It is a great expectorant for dry coughs. Many herbalists refer to mullein as “lungs of the earth,” because of its usefulness in healing respiratory issues, but also because many believe the leaves have the general shape of a lung. Some know of mullein because of its association with ear infections – infused into a carrier oil, it is a great way to treat ear infections. And though it has many, many other uses, I primarily use it as a way to keep my lymphatic fluids moving. I use mullein in a tea blend – if you do this, just be sure to strain it with cheesecloth to catch those little “fuzzies” from getting into your tea! They will go straight through a traditional tea strainer.  

I highly encourage you to go for a weed walk and look for this plant friend. She will make herself known to you, if you have a genuine desire to communicate with her. Most of the pictures here in this post were taken when I went on a walk in my suburban neighborhood in early April. I have noticed that my neighbors have removed most of these plants from their lawns, I’m sad to say. Others have been mowed over and will rise again and again. I also went to area that I know is safe from herbicides and harvested a few leaves for my teas.

Go and look. There are plants all around us, longing to be noticed, longing to communicate with us. Even if you don’t intend to use them, just take a look and thank them for the support they give us just by persistently growing wherever they can find a pocket of soil, ready and waiting for our need. The plant world loves us so much – it’s overwhelming and humbling to realize that.

Please remember: Do not harvest and use any plants unless you know what you’re harvesting, how to use it, whether or not it’s safe for you and whether or not it’s been treated with herbicides or pesticides!