great mullein

Mullein

[muhl-uhn]

The Mulleins (Verbascum) are a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae). They are native to Europe and Asia, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean region.

They are biennial or perennial plants, rarely annuals or subshrubs, growing to 0.5-3 m tall. The plants first form a dense rosette of leaves at ground level, subsequently sending up a tall flowering stem. The leaves are spirally arranged, often densely hairy, though glabrous (hairless) in some species. The flowers have five symmetrical petals; petal colours in different species include yellow (most common), orange, red-brown, purple, blue or white. The fruit is a capsule containing numerous minute seeds.

Toxicity

The entire plant contains coumarin and rotenone, with the highest concentrations of these compounds present in the plants seeds. The plant has a long history of use as a medicine, and is an effective treatment for asthma and respiratory disorders. Extracts made from the plants flowers are a very effective treatment for ear infections. Although this plant is a recent arrival to North America, Native Americans used the ground seeds of this plant as a paralytic fish poison due to their high levels of rotenone. The seeds of this plant should not be consumed and can cause internal hemmoraging if ingested. The high coumarin content of the seeds makes the plant an effective blood thinner. Coumarin is the primary ingredient used in rat poisons. Ingestion of rotenone has been linked as a causative agent of Parkinson's disease.

Selected species

  • Verbascum lagurus Fisch. & C.A.Mey.
  • Verbascum lanatum Schrad.
  • Verbascum lasianthum Boiss. ex Benth.
  • Verbascum leianthum Benth.
  • Verbascum leucophylum Griseb.
  • Verbascum levanticum I.K.Ferguson
  • Verbascum litigiosum Samp.
  • Verbascum longifolium Ten.
  • Verbascum lychnitis L. - White mullein
  • Verbascum macedonicum Kosanin & Murb.
  • Verbascum macrurum Ten.
  • Verbascum malophorum Boiss. & Heldr.
  • Verbascum mucronatum Lam.
  • Verbascum nevadense Boiss.
  • Verbascum nicolai Rohlena
  • Verbascum nigrum L. - Dark mullein
  • Verbascum niveum Ten.
  • Verbascum nobile Velen.
  • Verbascum gypsicola Vural & Aydoğdu
  • Verbascum olympicum Boiss.
  • Verbascum orientale (L.) Al.
  • Verbascum orphanideum Murb.
  • Verbascum ovalifolium Donn ex Sims
  • Verbascum paniculatum Wulf.
  • Verbascum pelium Halácsy
  • Verbascum pentelicum Murb.
  • Verbascum pestalozzae Murb.
  • Verbascum phlomoides L. - Orange mullein
  • Verbascum phoeniceum L. - Purple mullein
  • Verbascum pinnatifidum Vahl
  • Verbascum pseudonobile Stoj. & Stef.
  • Verbascum pulverulentum Vill. - Hoary mullein
  • Verbascum purpureum (Janka) Hub.-Mor.
  • Verbascum pycnostachyum Boiss. & Heldr.
  • Verbascum pyramidatum M.Bieb.
  • Verbascum reiseri Halácsy
  • Verbascum roripifolium (Halácsy) I.K.Ferguson
  • Verbascum rotundifolium Ten.
  • Verbascum rupestre (Davidov) I.K.Ferguson
  • Verbascum samniticum Ten.
  • Verbascum scardicola Bornm.
  • Verbascum siculum Tod. ex Lojac.
  • Verbascum sinuatum L. - Wavyleaf mullein
  • Verbascum songaricum Schrenk
  • Verbascum speciosum Schrad. - Showy mullein
  • Verbascum spectabile M.Bieb.
  • Verbascum spinosum L.
  • Verbascum thapsus L. - Great mullein
  • Verbascum undulatum Lam.
  • Verbascum vandasii (Rohlena) Rohlena
  • Verbascum virgatum Stokes - Twiggy mullein
  • Verbascum viridissimum Stoj. & Stef.
  • Verbascum widemannianum Fisch. & Mey.
  • Verbascum xanthophoeniceum Griseb.
  • Verbascum zuccarinii (Boiss.) I.K.Ferguson
  • Cultivation and uses

    Various species have been introduced (and in some case naturalised) in the Americas, Australia and Hawaii.

    Since the year 2000 a number of new hybrid cultivars have come out that have increased flower size with shorter heights and tend to be longer lived plants. A number have new colors for this genus. Many are raised from seed, both the short lived perennial and biennial types. In the landscape they are valued for their tall narrow stature and for flowering over a long period of time, even in dry soils.

    One species, Verbascum thapsus (Great mullein), is used as a herbal remedy for sore throat, cough and lung diseases.

    Mullein is also the active ingredient in many alternative smoking blends.

    References

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