Awhile back the Goat and I did a garden club presentation on bees as pollinators and how to attract them. One thing we told the group was to “live and let live” when it comes to weeds. In our next breath, we said that since they were all gardeners, we knew that would be difficult but they could ease the pain somewhat by becoming herbalists. You see, nothing is a weed to an herbalist. If you don’t believe me, come take a look at my yard. The dandelions are getting chummy with the thistles, and the clover, feeling left out, keeps edging closer and closer. I won’t even mention the plantain except to say that since it’s our go-to, johnny-on-the-spot remedy for stings and such, as beekeepers we generally let it be.
But my hands-down favorite not-a-weed is mullein. It could sprout in the middle of the living room floor, and I wouldn’t yank it up. First, the plant itself is beautiful; second, it thrives on neglect; and third, it has a long history as a medicinal herb–a real win-win-win situation.
The Latin name for mullein is Verbascum thapsus. Its common names include candlewick plant, torches, velvet plant, flannel plant, shepherd’s staff, and lungwort. The Goat calls it cowboy toilet paper and claims he has used it as such. I don’t always trust goats, especially the two-legged variety, and though mullein leaves are velvety, their tiny hairs can break off and “itch” senstive skin so I bet if he really did use it, he never used it a second time.
Back in the day when people treated their own illnesses, mullein was used for all types of respiratory ailments, from simple coughs to asthma. My mother was asthmatic, and many times I’d walk into the kitchen to see her setting fire to a small pile of weird-looking, grayish stuff on a dinner plate. After it started to smoke, she’d make a tent over her head with a bath towel and spend the next twenty or so minutes breathing in the smoke. I never knew what the stuff was, but I bet it was an old-school OTC remedy with mullein as the base.
But my favorite use for mullein (other than admiring it) is making ear ache oil. This is the point where I remind you I am not a doctor and can’t diagnose illnesses or prescribe any remedies. I’m just telling you what works for us and how to prepare it should you want to give it a try (of your own free will, of course).
Whew, now that that’s over, here’s how to make the home remedy that has kept my family and our earaches out of the doctor’s office for over twenty years. First, find yourself a mullein plant and pick the flowers off the plant stalk. Take them inside and lay them out on a paper towel to dry. When you have “enough” fully dried flowers, stuff them into a glass jar (the size depends on how many flowers you have), add olive oil to just barely cover them, put the lid on tight, and shake the jar a couple of times a day for about six weeks. Finally, strain the flowers out and pour the oil into dropper bottles. Pretty simple, huh? The hardest part might be finding a mullein plant! Also, unless you are lucky enough to find a mullein “patch,” it may take several days, possibly weeks, to collect enough flowers to make your oil–just one more excuse to get out of the house and into the sunshine!
Like most remedies, mullein oil works best if you don’t wait too long to use it. You should warm the dropper bottle in a pan of warm water (not the microwave!) so your ear isn’t shocked by cold oil. To add some extra umph to the remedy, you can simmer a sliced garlic clove in the oil for a few minutes. Just remember to remove the garlic slices and let the oil cool a bit before putting it in your ear! And use some common sense. If the pain is excruciating or if your ear is oozing liquid or if the pain is persistent, get yourself to the doctor!
Otherwise, that’s it. Pretty simple, pretty quick, pretty effective! Like I said, a win-win-win situation!