Verbascum thapsus is a fuzzy-leaved, herbaceous biennial in the Scrophulariaceae family. In its second year of growth, a flower spike emerges with bright yellow, densely clustered flowers. Although the plant is considered a weed that thrives in compacted, poor soils, mullein leaf has been traditionally used for its many beneficial attributes since the time of Dioscorides, over 2,000 years ago. Mullein herb can be macerated into mullein extract, brewed as mullein leaf tea, or made into syrup.
Its magical qualities were numerous, going way beyond simply warding off evil but also was thought to instill courage and health, provide protection, and to attract love. In fact, it was believed that wearing mullein would ensure fertility and also keep potentially dangerous animals at bay while trekking along in the wilderness. Further, allegedly a practice for men in the Ozark mountains to attract love consisted of simply pointing the mullein's flowering stalk towards the direction of his love's house and seeing if the stalk went upright again indicating her reciprocated love. Mullein, like so many herbs of European origin, were introduced by the colonists and then incorporated into the Native American healing tradition. The root was made into a necklace for teething infants by the Abnaki tribe, the Cherokee applied the leaves as a poultice for cuts and swollen glands, and other tribes rubbed the leaves on the body during ritual sweat bathes. Additionally, the flowers were used internally as teas and topically as poultices. The Navajos smoked mullein, referring to it as "big tobacco" and the Amish were known to partake as well. Presently, mullein can be found at health food stores often prepared as soothing leaf tea or an ear oil made of the infused flowers.
According to King's American dispensatory (a book first published in 1854 that covers the uses of herbs used in American medical practice), "upon the upper portion of the respiratory tract its influence is pronounced." Mullein was prescribed by Eclectic Physicians (a branch of American medicine popular in the 1800-early 1900's which made use of botanical remedies) who considered it to be an effective demulcent and diuretic, and a mild nervine "favoring sleep."