Verbascum thapsus (Aaron’s rod, Jacob’s staff, our lord’s candle, flannel leaf, velvet dock, velvet plant, big taper, candlewick, great mullein, wooly mullein, lungwort, high taper, torches, blanketweed, ice-leaf, cowboy toilet paper)

description: evergreen biennial

place of origin: Eurasia

urban habitat: commonly found in dry, sandy or rocky soils, vacant lots, waste areas, rubble dumps, rock piles, along stone walls, highway banks and railroad tracks; thrives on steep open slopes in full sun.

ecological function: disturbance-adapted colonizer of bare ground; food for wildlife.

history: Verbascum thapsus was introduced into North America by European settlers in the late 1600’s and is currently found throughout the US, including Alaska and Hawaii. It is also found in South America, parts of Africa, and Australia. The leaves and flowers have a long history of medicinal uses in Europe for treatment of chest colds, asthma, bronchitis, kidney infections, cuts, and swellings. Its roots have been used to alleviate toothache, cramps, convulsions, and to remove warts. The plant was widely used medicinally for the same purposes by a number of Native American tribes, as well as for treatment of fever, mumps, tuberculosis, rheumatism, gynecological problems, headache, earache, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, constipation, eczema, swollen glands, heart ailments, and for ceremonial purposes. Its leaves contain rotenone, which has insecticidal properties and coumarin, which can be used as an anticoagulant. A recent study of extracts from the plant revealed it has antibacterial and antitumor properties. A yellow dye can be obtained from its flowers and was purportedly used to dye hair as early as the 4th century BC. Early North American settlers are said to have used its fuzzy leaves as insulation in their shoes and clothing. The flowering stems dipped in wax have been used as torches and the dried leaves and stems burned as tinder.

Urban Herbs: Mullein