Great Mullein (Minnesota)
Improvement status: Wild
Seeds per packet: ~150
Germination tested 12/2021: 34%
Life cycle: Biennial
Mullein is a very well-known and interesting plant, naturalized in North America and around the world, and with a long history of use by humans. Its many names are indicative of its value and its hold on the imagination of generations of foragers, herbalists, and others. Besides "great mullein" and "common mullein," it has been or is known variously as "flannel plant," "poor man's blanket," "Bullocks lungwort," "Adams-rod," "hig candlewick," "velvet dock," "ice-leaf," "feltwort," "clot," "torches," and — most graphically — "cowboy toilet paper"!
With its wide, distinctive, fuzzy leaves, mullein is a fixture in many landscapes. Many consider it a weed, but it is also increasingly planted intentionally. Recently it has experienced a renaissance among herbalists in this country, in particular for its purported ability to improve lung health. We use it for tea to relieve coughs and colds and as a sleep aid due to its mild sedative effect (always using a tea bag or fine muslin cloth, since the tiny fibers that make the plant fuzzy can be irritating to the throat), but many people actually smoke it for various lung ailments. Quite counterintuitively, smoked mullein was once said to "completely relieve the hacking cough of consumption [tubercolosis]," and some people still swear by smoking it for asthma and other lung problems.
The plant is also used for skin conditions, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, migraines, earaches, colic, catarrh, and many other ailments. During the Civil War, it was used to staunch bleeding and dress wounds. It has antibacterial properties and was known as a destroyer of disease-agents for a long time (the 16th-century English herbalist Gerard wrote that figs wrapped in mullein leaves would not "putrefy").
This seed was collected by Dusty from a patch of wild-growing plants in Castle Rock, Minnesota. Some of them were quite large.
Mullein's cultivation may be restricted in parts of Colorado, Hawaii, and potentially other states as well, so please consult your local agricultural authorities about its status before purchasing.
NOTE: Legally, any seed below 50% germination rate should be marked "below standard." But for a wild plant like mullein, a 30% germ rate may be the best we can get. Nevertheless, 150 seeds should be plenty to get a population going, even with 30% germination.
Photo credit: Forest & Kim Starr