Harvesting wild food is a lot of fun, but it is also extremely empowering. Knowing how to find, identify, and prepare wild plants to nourish yourself feels great and provides an enormous sense of capability. Plus, foraged foods are free and often packed with body-bolstering nutrients.

There are tons of plants that many consider extraordinarily useful weeds. Weeds not only tell us a lot about soil and moisture conditions but also many of them are traditionally used for food and medicine. These edible weeds include dandelions, sweet violets, lambsquarter, watercress, and even kudzu.

Another great edible weed to learn about is mullein.

Source: Herbal Jedi/Youtube

The Stats on Mullein

Mullein, officially identified as Verbascum thapsus, has a bunch of common names, including velvetleaf, flannel plant, and cowboy toilet paper. As the litany of common names hints, this plant has huge fuzzy leaves that are regularly over a foot long.

It is a biennial (takes two years to mature) herb (no woody stems) that can grow over six feet tall and about half or more as wide. In its first year, it is just a rosette of leaves, and during the second, it produces a spike of flowers that can measure as much as two feet.

Mullein as a Weed

Mullein grows well in disturbed areas, such as mistreated meadows, overgrazed pastures, road embankments, and industrial lots. In other words, it tends to be at home where people are causing natural imbalance, where it can find the opportunity to infiltrate and outcompete young native plants.

Like many “weeds,” mullein grows prolifically in the United States, but it is not native. It grows naturally in Europe, Asia, and (north) Africa, yet it is now found on every continent but Antarctica. It was introduced to the US in the 1700s, and it is considered invasive in at least 20 states.

Source: Dirtpatcheaven/Youtube

Mullein Is Edible

Both the flowers and the leaves of mullein are edible. Even the stems can be eaten, but the seeds are toxic. The edible parts of the plant are best eaten when hidden and dispersed amongst other vegetables, such as in stews or soups. Regardless, mullein isn’t usually consumed as a vegetable.

Usually, those who consume mullein do so as homemade herbal tea. Its leaves, flowers, and stems can be used fresh or dried, and they are often brewed with other herbs, such as mint and stevia, to provide a more pleasant flavor. Mullein tastes a bit like dirt, which of course, brings to mind: Why eat it then?

Source: Trillium: Wild Edibles/Youtube

Mullein the Medicine

More than wonderful tasting tea, mullein is highly regarded as a medicinal plant. Most famously, mullein was used as a treatment in hospitals for tuberculosis for centuries. The plant had a pretty impressive record for improving patients’ conditions, including claims of full recovery for those with a quick diagnosis.

Unsurprisingly, it is particularly respected for use with respiratory issues. It has saponins, and they make it function as an expectorant. But, it also has a lot of mucilage, making it valuable in relining the raw areas that coughs and allergies might create. Such qualities have made a cold and flu solution, too.

Additionally, mullein has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. These traits have made it a natural treatment for things like ear infections, cramps, and skin irritations. It is also used for digestive problems and joint pain.

Source: AZ2Ozarks/Youtube

Growing Mullein at Home

For those interested in growing mullein at home rather than foraging it, seeds are available from various sources online. They germinate readily, and once going, they will likely not need to be planted again. They like sunny places with well-draining soil, and remember, they’ll need plenty of space to spread out and grow up. The beauty, then, is that it’s super easy to harvest from the huge mullein plant.

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