Edition 37: November 2011
What Herb is That?
From witches torches to healing ears
ALMOST ALL of the versatile mullein plant has been used in households and by herbalists for one purpose or another.
The leaves, flowers and roots are called upon to make tea, infused oils, gargles and syrups.
The yellow flowers of the herb were often used as a dye for blonde hair and the fuzzy leaves put inside stockings to keep the feet tepid during cold times.
The Latin name Verbascum is considered to be a corruption of barbascum, from the Latin barba (a beard), no doubt due to its hairy foliage. The down on the leaves and stem makes excellent kindling, readily igniting tinder when very dry, and before the introduction of cotton, it was used for lamp wicks, which explains one of its other old names Candlewick Plant.
The fibrous rod of the plant was ideal to use as a flaming torch when dipped in fat and was often used in funeral processions.
It was thought witches used the plant thus, for incantations and it was called Hag's Taper. In both Europe and Asia the mullein was believed to have the power to drive away evil spirits.
In the middle ages, it was fed to cattle and horses to relieve lung disease and malandre (boils on their necks). This is thought to be where the name “mullein” is derived.
Dioscorides used the herb for scorpion stings, eye, ear and tooth complaints. Early herbalists prescribed mullein as a respiratory remedy and for wasting diseases such as tuberculosis. Colonists took the plant to America where it was smoked for coughs and asthma.
While any form of smoking is doubtable treatment for the lungs, mullein leaves have been smoked to cure many ailments. Mullein tea is said to help to reduce the craving for tobacco.
Mullein helps stimulate the immune system and this explains why its use can inhibit herpes simplex viruses. Laboratory tests have verified its action on cold sores.
Internally the demulcent tea soothes peptic ulcers and diarrhoea.
The respiratory system likes mullein and accordingly it is included in many herbal formulas to ease pulmonary conditions such as coughs and congestion.
It may also help alleviate the symptoms of asthma, tracheitis, bronchitis and emphysema, as it facilitates the elimination of excessive mucous from the body (due to the saponin content).
For these conditions, mullein blends well with other expectorants such as coltsfoot and thyme - a tea which is very soothing for sore throats.
The mucilage in the mullein plant proves to be particularly soothing to haemorrhoids, as well as the astringent activity of its tannins. A compress of the herbal infusion is indicated for this problem.
Mullein is one of the best herbs to treat many childhood illnesses such as tonsilitis (inflammation of the tonsils), chicken pox, measles and mumps. In the latter case, add catnip herb to the mullein in tea. Incidentally, this combination has been found to be effective in treating pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
As a superb emollient, which is a substance that soothes irritated skin, mullein can be applied externally for dressing skin ulcers, wounds, sunburns and common burns.
It may be applied externally to treat burns and erysipelas or streptococcus infections. At the same time, it is useful in treating bruises and frostbite.
Ears greatly benefit from careful treatment with mullein oil. Gently warm a few drops of this medicated oil by placing the bottle in a cup of hot water and placing it in the ear canal to alleviate ear ache and ear infections. Warming the oil to blood temperature prevents an uncomfortable shock to the person having it placed inside the ear canal! This is also excellent for swimmers ear (prevention and treatment) and ear eczema. Remember to cover the ear with a warm cloth after applying the oil.
When treating all ear conditions, before applying the oil in the ear canal it is necessary to ensure that the ear drums are not perforated or punctured.
Mullein syrup is considered effective for treating heart conditions, such as palpitations, fast or irregular heart-beat, angina (chest pains owing to lack of adequate blood in the heart) and several other coronary disorders. Such a remedy would be complementary to medical treatments.
IN ITS first year of growth, the large and hairy leaves of the mullein plant form a rosette appearance just above the ground. In the spring of the second year, the plant gives rise to a solitary and stout stem from the leaves with tough, strong fibres enclosing a thin rod of white pith that grows to four feet.
The apex of the stem is covered with yellow, honey-scented flowers. The hairs that cover the leaves so thickly act as a protective coat, inhibiting depletion of the plant's moisture and as a defensive weapon from insect attacks and animals that may attempt to graze upon them (the tiny hairs irritate their mucous membrane so they usually leave the plant alone).
Humans however know how to harvest mullein for a variety of uses, including:
Mullein Oil: To prepare an oil infusion place two handfuls of cut dried or fresh mullein flowers and leaves in two cups of olive or almond oil. Simmer over a low heat for several days or leave in the sunshine for a week. Filter the liquid and store in a dark bottle. Mullein oil is complementary to many medicinal aromatherapy blends and chamomile; manuka or lavender essential oils could be added to augment its antiseptic, cooling action.
Mullein Tea: A medicinally useful tea is prepared with dried mullein leaves and flowers for treating coughs and bronchial congestion. Add 50g of mullein leaves or flowers to 500ml of boiling water and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes. Take the tea 3-4 times daily to reduce high temperatures associated with cold and coughs. The herb is bitter, so honey is a palliative addition.
Mullein Gargle: Dilute one part oil infusion with 10 parts water, mix well and use to rinse your throat for difficult coughs.
Mullein Syrup: Add 250ml of the oil infusion to 250gm of raw honey on low heat and allow to reduce. Store in the fridge for a few days as an effective treatment for persistent and rigid coughs.
Latin name: Verbascum Thapsus
Family: Figwort (Scrophulariaceae)
Other names: Common mullein, great mullein, Aaron’s rod, cow’s lungwort; bunny’s ears, flannel leaf, Jacob's-staff, lady foxglove, candlewick plant, torches, hag's taper.
What is it? Mullein is a woolly-looking biennial plant, indigenous to central and southern regions of Europe as well as western parts of Asia, but has
acclimatised itself to many other temperate regions of the world. A prolific self-sower, mullein can commonly be found growing in open wastelands and beside pavements.
Therapeutic properties: expectorant, demulcent, emollient, (soothes inner and outer tissues), astringent (a substance that draws affected tissues closer), vulnerary (heals wounds), anticatarrhal, diuretic, sedative, narcotic (a drug that relieves pain and induces sleep), anti-inflammatory.
Precautions: Studies as well as experience have shown that mullein is a safe herb and does not have any adverse side effects. Although, there have been infrequent reports of skin irritation after the use of mullein; mullein is believed to be safe to use during pregnancy or lactation.
Essential oil of the Month
Mood-lifting oil brings good luck
ANCIENT China valued the fruit of Citrus reticulata tree as a good luck charm and regularly gave them as gifts to the mandarin people - hence the European’s name for what we know as the mandarin tree.
This tree was brought to Europe in 1805 and to the USA forty years later.
Native to southern China and the Far East, the mandarin tree is member of the orange family; it is a small, evergreen tree which grows up to two metres; it has small orange-like fruits, fragrant, greenish-yellow flowers and glossy leaves.
Sometimes ‘mandarin’ and ‘tangerine’ are both wrongly used to describe the same essential oil. Although both trees are of the same species with the same botanical name, the actual fruit of the trees are different in colour, shape and size and the oils are of different chemo-type.
Mandarins are generally cultivated in Italy, Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Brazil, the Middle East and Algeria whereas tangerines are generally cultivated in some areas of the US.
It is a prolific fruit-bearing tree that prefers hot and humid climates, however the fruit from trees growing in more temperate areas yields more oil. The oil is extracted from the ripe peel of the fruit by cold pressing and it has a deep orange colour.
Today the oil is predominately used in soaps, cosmetics, perfumes and as a flavouring agent in liqueurs and confectionery, but the Chinese believed that mandarin strengthened both the digestive and liver functions.
Due to its high percentage of limonene, mandarin is useful digestive tonic that safely treats many forms of indigestion, including stomach cramps, colic and hiccups. Include mandarin in a belly rub blend to assuage con- stipation and to assist with poor appetite in the very young and the elderly.
Mandarin has cholagogic properties, which means it improves functions of the liver, enhancing its ability to digest fats and promoting the secretion of bile.
Regular mandarin massage could be helpful for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome and help with the expulsion of excess gas form the intestines.
Help during pregnancy
The oil may be of use for morning sickness, a drop mixed into honey and taken with food.
Like many of the citrus oils, mandarin may be employed in combination with other dispersant oils to help combat fluid retention and obesity; to bring more tone and energy to sluggish areas of the body and balance the metabolism. This is a boon for those who struggle with cellulite.
Mandarin oil is most effective when used in skin care; its tendency to firm, cleanse and refine sluggish and dull skin render it an excellent addition to facial toners and body lotions and creams.
Skin that is prone to oiliness, acne and premature wrinkling responds well to such rejuvenating treatments, so does discoloured skin and brown-spotted hands.
Mandarin’s emollient properties also help prevent stretch marks in pregnancy and it is such a safe oil for this purpose.
Add a few drops to a natural shampoo and conditioner to combat alopecia (falling hair) and scalp irritations.
Mandarin is a sedative nerve tonic which is gentle enough to include in children’s massage blends; its calming effects and sweet delightful smell make it a winner in this capacity.
It is highly suitable for hyperactivity in children and calms ADD and ADHD and also reputedly those with autism.
In fact, it is said to calm arrhymia and tachycardia of the heart; technically speaking it supposedly balances out the electronics of the Sino atrial node. It appears to even out the pattern of the contractions of involuntary muscles, be it the heart, the lungs or the large intestine.
Fresh and Light hearted
Tranquilising and relaxing in nature, mandarin oil belongs in stress-relieving blends to target nervousness, anxiety and insomnia by balancing the electro-chemical levels of the brain.
It is uplifting for those entrenched in PMS, grief or depression, soothing away feelings of dejection.
For all of the above reasons, mandarin is a superb, sweet and youthful note to all perfume blends, a true delight to spray about your person to comfort and uplift.
Mandarin oil mixed with water and a small amount of vodka makes a cooling and soothing spritzer or cologne for over-heated emotional conditions. As a lively top note, it is a blessing for any dull perfume blend.
Vapourisers: Add five drops of mandarin to relax and revive before a big night out. This is a good choice to use in a child’s rooms for irritable, fractious kiddies.
Bath time: Mix 3-5 drops of mandarin oil with half a cup of full-cream milk and mix into warm bath water for jetlag.
Bed time: Add a few drops on a handkerchief and tuck amongst children’s night clothes and bedding to settle over-tired kids.
Latin name: Citrus reticulata
Scent: Mandarin is the sweetest of the citrus oils with an intense, sweet and tangy citrusy smell with a more delicate top note than orange and slightly fresher with floral undertones. Keep mandarin in the fridge to prolong shelf-life.
Blends well with: other citrus oils, lime, orange, lemon, and grapefruit, spice oils such as nutmeg, cinnamon, bay and clove and rose.
Therapeutic Properties: anti-septic, anti-spasmodic, circulatory, cytophylactic, depurative, digestive, emollient, hepatic, nervous relaxant, sedative, stomachic and tonic restorative.
Safety: Considered one of the safest oils; gentle enough to be used with babies, children and the elderly. Avoid direct sunlight immediately after using mandarin essential oil to avoid photo-sensitivity.