2016-02-07 10.22.37Today we discovered a new weed in our yard—that brings the total tally of weed species on the property to 57. The new plant is mullein (Verbascum thapsus), a native to Europe, and a common weed all over the world. Our specimen was young–just a tiny floret, but during its second year, mullein can send up a flower stalk almost 2 metres tall.

Like many garden weeds, mullein was almost certainly brought to New Zealand on purpose in the early 1800s. It seems to have been used for nearly everything by various peoples at various times in history.

The Romans used the flower stalk dipped in tallow as a torch.

It has been used since ancient times as a remedy for coughs and asthma (in people and livestock), either by drinking a tea made of leaves or flowers, or by smoking the leaves.

It either ensured conception or prevented it, depending upon what place and time you lived.

It’s fuzzy leaves, rubbed on the cheeks, impart a rosy hue, like rouge. Preparations made from the leaves can also soften the skin.

A yellow hair dye can be made from the flowers.

A green dye can be made from the leaves (probably best not to use this on your hair—it’s apparently permanent).

It was supposedly used by witches and warlocks, and was considered a charm against demons.

Its fuzzy leaves can be used as a thermal lining in your shoes.

And, of course, as any Boy Scout knows, it makes fine toilet paper!

Just remember to keep track of which leaves you’ve used as toilet paper, so you don’t use them for tea…;)

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