Mullein Heals the Earth


Mullein (mullan, Verbascum thapsus) is a biennial plant with fuzzy leaves. Often called “cowboy toilet paper” or “the butt wipe plant”.   It will grow in the worst soils, including gravel piles, rock piles, and the video will show it growing in asphalt.  Mullein generally doesn’t compete with anything, so it improves the worst soils wherever it goes.

In the video:

Brian Kerkvliet of Inspiration Farm in Bellingham, Washington says that he might take some mullein out, but usually leaves it in.  He thinks it has a lot of good roots for building the soil. Good biomass, bee food and the dried stalks help with aerating compost piles.

Tulsey Latoski mentions the lore that mullein fights off evil spirits, then shares information about how mullein can be used as an ear ache medicine,  as the foundation for tallow torches, and as a roadside toilet paper.

Norris Thomlinson talks about how goldfinches and downy woodpeckers like the seeds.

Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden, A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, starts off by confessing that mullein is “the world’s greatest toilet paper“, then explains how mullein heals the worst soil problems:  it has a “spike root” which will break up compacted soil, bringing minerals up from deep in the soil.   “Removing ‘weeds’ stops nature from healing the soil.” Mullein grows in sand, gravel and rock piles, is an early pioneer stage plant, and “once the soil actually gets better … the mullein often leaves of its own accord.  It’s not something to stick around once the soil gets well developed … it’s one of those plants that comes in and very politely bows out once its job is done.”

Our official mullein spokesmodel, Forrest, was available for this video really cheap.  It turns out that he doesn’t actually speak (which you would think would be required of a SPOKESmodel) and he appears always disheveled (the “model” part).  But he does convey information on the size of mullein, what it looks like when it is dead, and the bit about how a mullein leaf under your pillow is supposed to give you great dreams.

Dov Shoneman, licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, likes mullein’s latin name of  Verbascum thapsus and admits to the most common name of “the toilet paper plant”.  He suggests that the leaves remind him of lungs – therefore, good lung medicine;  a tea will help facilitate the function of the lungs;  the flowers can be put in olive oil with garlic for two weeks as the best ear infection medication – anti-bacterial and anti-viral.

Gordon Hogenson (thanks to Gordon and Jeni Hogenson for giving me the video clip.  Jeni did the filming) shows off a massive specimen and reminds us that mullein is from eurasia.  Gordon mentions how it is an impressive architectural plant in the garden.

Bud Papin, Polson, Montana assures us that this is the official American Indian “butt wipe plant” (native americans adopted mullein quickly and found many uses for it not covered in this video).  Bud also shares that it is wise to “go with the needles, don’t go against the needles” (the fuzz on older plants can cause discomfort if you “go against the fuzz”).

Kelly Ware of BigFork, Montana confeses to using the plant for … uh … paperwork … earlier in the day.

Michael “Skeeter” Pilarski is a renouned wildcrafter and permaculture instructor.  He harvests and sells  the flowers, leaves and roots of mullein every year.  Skeeter mentions how drying the leaves can be tough because of how the fuzz “is a drought resistant strategy”.  He then talks about different kinds of torches that can be made.  “If you make a big pile of gravel, mullein is the first thing that will colonize the gravel pile.” “Mullein loves humans.  Humans and mullein have a love affair.  We disturb the soil and hurt the planet, and mullein comes along and tries to repair things.”


BIO: Paul Wheaton is is the tyrannical ruler of two on-line communities. One is about permaculture and one is about software engineering. There is even one for Missoula. Paul has written several permaculture articles starting with one on lawn care that he presented at the MUD Project 17 years ago, including articles on raising chickenscast iron and diatomaceous earth. Paul also regularly uploads permaculture videos and permaculture podcasts. In his spare time, Paul has plans for world domination and is currently shopping for a hollowed out volcano in the Missoula area, with good submarine access.

See all of Paul’s contributions to MakeitMissoula on this Blog Homepage here