No matter which way I turn, mullein (Verbascum thapsis) seems to insert its fuzzy leaves into my life.
First there was the requested rescue mission to Aurora (on June 18), where Jim and Nancy invited me to weed out all of their mullein. Much to my excitement, there were about 20 big, healthy rosettes—a far cry from last year’s 10,000 tiny ones. This time I gathered enough mullein that when washed and laid out to dry, it covered three cookie sheets with a small mound of leaves on each one.
Of course, this brought to mind the need to do something with last year’s dried mullein leaves, of which I still have a medium-size box full.
Hot Mullein Tea
I already enjoy hot mullein tea, brewed from the fresh or dried leaves and then strained through a coffee filter to remove the fine hairs, on a regular basis. Served with milk and honey, its mild sedative effect and throat-relieving properties are said to be good for colds (March et. al., 1979).
Iced Mullein Milk Tea
I thought, if hot mullein tea, then why not cold? As the days warm, I often crave a cold, light-flavored tea or juice.
So, I lightly boiled then steeped some of last year’s dried mullein leaves until the water turned medium green, strained, added honey and a splash of milk, and set in the refrigerator to cool (where it turned the brownish color you see at right). I found the mullein milk tea to be mild but refreshing.
Gregg came home later that week and I made another batch of iced mullein milk tea, this time with the fresh leaves I collected from his parents’ landscaping. It was a weaker batch than the last (which I had loaded with leaves) and I went a little heavy on the milk, so even I admit that it tasted a bit like watered-down milk. Gregg, who is not your biggest mullein fan anyway, insisted on a taste, even though mullein usually does not interest him. He tried it, grimaced, and that was the end of it.
“You know what? I’m going to train you on iced green tea first,” I told him. “Would you drink iced green tea?” Gregg did not respond, however, as he was sucked into his computer.
I’m sold, though. Making the mullein tea strong enough is key, of course. When you do, it has a unique soft and comforting taste. I will continue to drink it—both for the taste, and also because I now have a crap-ton of it in the closet.
Iced Mullein Milk Bubble Tea
One thing I don’t think is available in Fairplay, Colorado is a tapioca—the kind used to make boba, pearl tea, or bubble tea, as it is sometimes called. I drank pearl tea all the time when I lived in Los Angeles, and frankly, I miss it. So I’ve been dreaming of making a boba of late with my newfound iced mullein milk tea. We’re heading down to Fort Collins next week and there’s a wonderful little grocery store that has authentic Asian ingredients, so hopefully I can score some there.
In the meantime, think about it—wouldn’t an iced mullein milk bubble tea be grand?
“Ew,” Gregg said when I pitched the idea to him. He can’t stand boba either. This is going to be a hard sell.
A Baby Mullein is Actually Growing in My Yard!
Two summers ago during a brief mullein obsession, I gathered some dried mullein stalks (using gloves, because the seeds are strong; they were used by native peoples as a fish paralytic) and crumbled them along with their seeds all over the rocky, dry soil around the house, which lies at 11,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies.
None of it grew.
Last summer, I painstakingly transplanted about 25 baby mullein plants from Jim and Nancy’s house in Aurora to the back and front yards. The snow has melted off them now, and they are all brown-gray and very dead-looking.
And yet, lo and behold, in a location I don’t recall sowing, a small, brand-new mullein plant is bursting its tiny way forth. The fuzzy, light green, interior leaves are unmistakably mullein, and something has been chewing on the two bigger leaves. I guess under the right conditions, mullein can grow at 11,000 feet—though it probably won’t grow too big. (I say this because we have goosefoot here too, and it grows to the height of my ankle, whereas in Fort Collins it was up to my waist last summer.)
I didn’t know you could smoke mullein, but apparently you can—a conclusion I draw from the picture of my near-namesake, Rebecca “Wild Girl” Lerner (I think her public presence preceded me, but I swear I am innocent of name-stealing by virtue of naiveté), who is based in Portland, OR and also writes about wild edible plants. Scroll down her page for the picture, where Wild Girl with her punk rock hair is smoking on a pipe filled with mullein!
Who knows—maybe if I get bored enough and we can’t get rid of our growing mullein supply, we’ll host a smoke-fest. I think there’s even some kinnikinnik leftover. I’ll keep you posted.