Plants are not always what they seem.
Take the mullein (scientific name Verbascum) It’s a species of flowering plant in the figwort family. It’s native to Europe, Asia, North Africa and North America and is a gentle herb used in folk medicine. The silvery green leaves and bright yellow flowers have been utilized for thousands of years.
Since I was a child, I’ve heard the old saying that someone suffering from a severe cut could use the mullein plant to stop the bleeding. Just break off one of its velvety, fuzzy leaves and lay it on the cut. Since then, although I never had to use the plant this way, I don’t dare destroy the plant when I see it. Better to be safe than sorry.
When reading in my gardening book and encyclopedia, I was surprised — and reassured — that the older generation of my family knew on a first-hand basis the medicinal qualities of this plant.
Here are some of mullein’s other uses:
▪ It can be used as “nature’s toilet paper” when you’re in the wild and Charmin’s not around.
▪ About 2000 years ago, it was used by a Greek physician for lung disorders.
▪ In Roman times, it was used as a hair wash. The leaf ash darkened the hair, while the yellow flowers on the stalk could be used to lighten it.
▪ Its large leaves were once dried and rolled for use as wicks for candles. The entire dried, flowering stalk were dipped in tallow and used for torches, lending it the name of the “candlewick plant.”
▪ Cherokee Indians applied the leaves as a poultice for cuts and swollen glands. Other tribes rubbed the leaves on the body during ritual sweat baths. The root was made into a necklace for teething infants.
▪ The Navajo smoked mullein and referred to it as “big tobacco.” The Amish were known to partake as well.
As an ardent reader of Vicky McMillan’s “Natural Lowcountry” column that’s printed in this newspaper, I clip and save her articles on unusual plants and stow them in my gardening book.
In a recent column, she wrote about the stinkhorn fungus.
I am all too familiar with it. I first came acquainted with it many years ago along the woody edge of our yard. It foul odor was totally disgusting but it did have a distinctive look with its odd shape and orange coloring. My mother-in-law called it a “buzzards-nose” mushroom, which described it perfectly. I still come across it but steer well clear. But, as Vicky wrote, stinkhorn actually plays a vital ecological role in our gardens by feeding on decomposing dead organic matter in the soil, while in the process recycling the nutrients, making them available to the roots of other green plants.
Mother nature is surely a wonder to behold.
Contributor Jean Tanner is a lifetime rural resident of the Bluffton area and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.