Synonyms: Other names: velvet plant, flannel plant Nomenclature: thapsus = from (Magnisi) Sicily Nativity / Invasiveness: introduced plant, weed
General: coarse, taprooted biennial, producing in the first year a rosette of basal leaves which may persist through the second, and in the second a single erect stem 40-200 cm tall. Stem, leaves, and flower cluster copiously and persistently woolly with branched hairs.
Leaves: basal leaves broadly oblanceolate, tapering to a stalked base, 10-40 cm long and 3-12 cm wide, obscurely round-toothed or entire. Stem leaves numerous, alternate, progressively reduced upward, becoming stalkless and clasping and with bases extending down the stem.
Flowers: many in a tall, dense, narrow spike, the flowers stalkless or nearly so. Corolla yellow or rarely white, 1-2 cm wide, with 5 spreading, round, almost equal lobes. The upper 3 filaments densely yellow-hairy, the lower two longer and hairless.
Fruits: capsules, broadly ovoid, woolly, 7-10 mm long.
A common weed of roadsides and disturbed areas in most parts of MT. Native to Eurasia, now established throughout most of temperate N. America.
An aromatic, slightly bitter tea can be made by infusing the dried leaves in boiling water for 5 - 10 minutes. A sweeter tea can be made by infusing the fresh or dried flowers.
Caution: The leaves may contain rotenone, which is used as an insecticide.
Great mullein is a commonly used domestic herbal remedy, valued for its efficacy in the treatment of pectoral complaints. It acts by reducing the formation of mucus and stimulating the coughing up of phlegm, and is a specific treatment for tracheitis and bronchitis. The leaves and the flowers are mildly pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, and have agents that cause tissue to contract, induce urination, that soften and soothe the skin when applied locally, that induce the removal (coughing up) of mucous secretions from the lungs and are used for healing wounds, fresh cuts, etc., usually used as a poultice. A tea is taken internally in the treatment of a wide range of chest complaints and also to treat diarrhea. The plant combines well with other expectorants such as coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Externally, a poultice of the leaves is a good healer of wounds and is also applied to ulcers, tumors and piles. Any preparation made from the leaves needs to be carefully strained in order to remove the small hairs which can be an irritant. The plant is harvested when in flower and is dried for later use. 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. This infusion is also strongly bactericidal. A decoction of the roots is said to alleviate toothache and also relieve cramps and convulsions. The juice of the plant and powder made from the dried roots is said to quickly remove rough warts when rubbed on them. It is not thought to be so useful for smooth warts. The seeds are slightly narcotic and also contain saponins. A poultice made from the seeds and leaves is used to draw out splinters. A decoction of the seeds is used to soothe chilblains and chapped skin. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh leaves. It is used in the treatment of long-standing headaches accompanied with oppression of the ear.
A yellow dye is obtained from the flowers by boiling them in water. When used with dilute sulfuric acid they produce a rather permanent green dye, this becomes brown with the addition of alkalis. An infusion of the flowers is sometimes used to dye the hair a golden color. The flowering stems can be dipped in wax and used as torches. The down on the leaves and stems makes an excellent tinder when quite dry. It is also used as an insulation in shoes to keep the feet warm and to make wicks for candles.
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