Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mullein - great details!!

Fabulous article with Incredible details!!
MULLEIN (Verbascum thapsis)
For decades, I sold dried mullein leaves, some dried flowers, and, occasionally dried mullein flowering stalks with all three stages of floral development present (unopened floral buds, open flowers, and some hard green capsules with developing seeds in approximately equal proportions).
Mullein Leaves
I usually harvested the big fuzzy basal rosette leaves of autumnal first year plants and vernal second year plants. The cut leaves were tied by their respective petioles in bundles of 2-8 each and the bundles hung to dry for up to two weeks. The leaf blades would dry to crispness in 3-5 days but the dry-resistant petioles could take up to 4 weeks to dry to complete crispness. This is a critical factor since much of the mullein I have seen in the market place looks moldy. At herb Faires plastic bags of dried mullein leaves in the sun often have big droplets of moisture on their shady sides. If damp mullein, even with crispy dry leaves, but with still wet petioles is stored in airtight containers, it will mould.
For good future therapeutic use, mullein leaves (and stems) should be dried to crispness.
Similarly, when harvesting both first and second year mullein leaves, carefully examine each leaf to check for mould /decay on the leaf undersides, and resolutely reject moldy leaves. This also applies fresh mullein leaves cut and used for olive oil extraction for use in salves and rubs.
Mullein leaves, stems, and most of the floral parts are covered with short thin bristles that are extreme irritants to the human respiratory tract and conjunctiva. Trying to eat the leaves is so unpleasant (to all vertebrate herbivores; some insects and perhaps slugs can manage to deal with the little bristles) that this precludes possible GI irritations.
For teas and tinctures, these hairs are best strained or filtered. We use throwaway paper goat milk filters to avoid contaminating or strainers with the bristles. For a few years we did not strain mullein tea or tincture and assumed that the burning of the throat was due to some mullein metabolite. Once we began to strain the fluids before ingesting, no more throat burning.
One day I got a letter from a resident of a neighboring island (before cell phones) which contained a prescription for ½ pound of dried mullein leaf, to be smoked as needed for relief from dry cough painful asthmatic bronchial spasms. The patient reported symptom relief over many months of mullein smoke inhalation.
I reluctantly filled that order. I am an ex tobacco smoker (1968) and severe pneumonia survivor and concomitantly generally antismoking anything except fish (difficult to inhale, but it has happened), even though I know that some plant metabolites are very effectively delivered via the respiratory tract as vapors. Mullein smoke has a long tradition in respiratory therapy (Grieve), but, is it essential? The PDR for Herbs (1998) does not mention mullein leaf smoking (and inhaling) as a therapeutic delivery mechanism. Turner mentions that Native Americans readily used the introduced Verbascum thapsis for smoking, perhaps because of the leaf similarities between the two; and, noted that one native informant said smoking too much was poisonous. There was no clear distinction between therapeutic, religious, and recreational smoking. I wonder if there is a psychotropic effect from smoking dried mullein leaves. Did the pre-Columbian smoking of mullein by Europeans make them more receptive to smoking tobacco leaves?
Mullein Flowers
I harvested mullein flowers and floral buds almost daily from the same mullein plants as the flowers matured sequentially in spirals. I noticed small black spots on the inflorescences, some resembling little drops of a black viscous resin; thin black lines of the same substance appeared in the petiole scars of harvested leaves. The resin appeared to be mullein’s self-cauterizing response to open wound from cutting and from piercing insect feedings. I picked off a bunch of resin, smelled it, tasted it and concluded it vaguely smelled like vanilla. I cut off several 6-12 in. apical mullein inflorescences (knowing that stem leaf axillary buds nearby would probably grow more floral shoots), took them home, and put them on a drying rack in the cabin. As the stalks dried, the cabin progressively smelled more like cookies, especially vanilla wafers. Compulsively living off-the-land (if not off our respective rockers) my partner and I decided this might make a great improvement in our home baking as a vanilla extract replacement. I immediately ran off to the neighbors to borrow a pint of vodka. I packed 1-2 cm cut pieces of the dried stalks into a quart canning jar, shook well several times a day for two weeks until the extract was black and nearly opaque.
We did use the extract in baking until we decided that maybe fine vanilla extract from Madagascar was not an integrity violation. I had tried the mullein extract as an aperitif and decided it was quite yummy in 5-10cc amounts. Then I thought that the dark color and pleasant flavor/aroma of dried wounded mullein stalks might be good in stout. So I brewed up a 5 gallon batch, much to the subsequent delight of my island neighbors.
I had noticed that all previously cut stalk ends were capped with black resin and a blackish sheen shone through the stalk epidermal layers prior to cutting the stems again for extraction. When I had returned to harvest the plants again after the stalk cutting, I saw that the cut ends were completely capped with black resin. Later, I was able to observe capping resin formation as changing from light brown to black in about 4 hours on a warm sunny day.
Mullein stouts and liqueurs became island favorites amongst the cognoscenti, especially the next generation who used both mullein stout and strong extracts to celebrate an annual local holiday. The event was often outrageously memorable. Must have been the mullein? It is imperative to use only dried flowering stalks, harvested when all three floral phases are about equally abundant on each floral stalk at harvest.
Mullein Flower Ear Oil
Mullein flower ear oil, made with fresh live mullein flowers and unopened floral buds, is very effective for painful symptom relief from earaches caused by inspissated earwax, especially in young children whose cerumen production and secretion is still being perfected. Very warm (105oF) mullein oil is droppered into the outer ear canal. Garlic oil is sometimes added to the mullein earache oil. A subsequent puddle of yellow to dark orange ceriman on the morning pillow is diagnostic for the mechanical problem of wax-impacted ear canals and a great teaching opportunity for the attending parents. Occasionally little or no ear wax is out flooded indicating more serious ear problems, even though the warm mullein or mullein/garlic oil has reduced the pain.
Rotenone in Mullein
Rotenone is a fish poison and very effective insecticide originally of plant origin but recently synthetically produced (US Disp.). It occurs in mullein seeds and seed capsules, and leaves. Mullein seeds and seed capsules have been used as fish poison (Bremness). Mullein seeds and flowering stalks are used to quell human ectoparasites particularly lice and scabies.
After one especially raucous Verbascum frolic, I wondered about a substance link between mullein therapeutic use and mullein extract recreational use. I believe the link is Rotenone.
Rotenone is virtually water insoluble, but readily soluble in ethanol, acetone, and other organic solvents (olive oil?) (Merck Index). Fatal rotenone poisoning causes respiratory failure. Mild rotenone poisoning from inhaled mullein smoke may be spasmolytic for asthmatics and chronic bronchitis. It may suppress the cough reflex, and, act as a local anodyne for inflamed ear canals. Rotenone is more toxic when inhaled than when ingested.
The case for rotenone-sourced psychotropic effects/responses to alcoholic drinks is at yet tenuous; oral ingestion of rotenone seems to cause GI distress, nausea, and vomiting (Goodman and Gilman). So can excessive alcohol consumption. My personal consumption response to 6-12 oz of mullein stout or up to 1 oz. mullein liqueur is usually very enthusiastic. More than that manifests as nausea and distinct aversion to further mullein stout or extract consumption. M. Grieve states that the seeds "intoxicate fish" and, the "whole plant seems to possess sedative and slightly narcotic properties". Therapeutically, I have employed mullein stout when arbitrating interpersonal disputes...
Rotenone as an insecticide is curious. Mullein flowering stalks are copiously infested with epiphytic insects. Dried mullein flowering stalks are my only product returned for insect infestation (and not much of it). I suspect that mullein resin as it dries becomes very antimicrobial as well as mechanically blocking water loss from wound. I encourage a thorough study of mullein resin (done?).
Mullein and BPH
An ND from Toronto, ONT., shared a very useful mullein observation: when treating males with obstructive watery pulmonary mucous accumulations using mullein tea or tincture mixed with goldenrod (Solidago odora) there was often concomitant relief from BPH symptoms, presumably also attended by watery accumulations of proteins. I wonder if smoking mullein reduces BPH symptoms.
I always use fresh mullein leaves in my herbal salves.
Mullein References:
  1. Bremness, L., 1994.Herbs.-Eyewitness Handbooks
  2. Foster, S. and Duke, J. 1990. Eastern /Central Medicinal Plants (Peterson Field Guides)
  3. Goodman and Gilman's The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics 6th ED. 1980
  4. Grieve, M 1931 Ibid
  5. Merck Index 1968. 8th ED.
  6. Moore, M. 1993. Ibid
  7. PDR for Herbal Medicines 1998. 1st ED.
  8. United States Dispensatory 1947. 24th ED.
Medicines of the Earth, 2005
Ryan Drum, PhD., AHG, Waldron, WA 98297

No comments:

Post a Comment