Verbascum Nigrum | Dark Mullein
Dark Mullein, also known as Black Mullein, is a tough, drought tolerant long-lived herbaceous perennial that flowers during the second year and gets its name from the dark reddish-purple color of the stem. Equipped with a deep tap root, it can thrive in many habitats, including disturbed sandy or rocky soils on roadsides, river banks, meadows, waste ground, forest margins, and rocky hillocks. Although it grows like a weed, Dark Mullein is most often cultivated as an ornamental plant.
In the first year of growth plants are merely a low-growing dark green rosette of leaves that are covered in hairs. Vernalization (exposure to cold temperatures) is required to induce flowering the following year. Returning reliably each summer, Dark Mullein pushes up bunches of unbranched 4-7 ft tall flower spikes that display bright yellow flowers with fuzzy purple stamens, which only open for one day each. The main flowering period is from June to September. The blooms last for about 6 weeks, but will continue into autumn if weather conditions are favorable and are cut back when they’re finished. Dark Mullein dies after it has finished flowering, but its lateral buds grow a new stem beside the root-stock and in this way the perennial survives each year. This plant asks very little, and gives so much. Will self-seed abundantly.
Mullein has a long history of herbal uses. The flowers and leaves are anodyne, antiseptic, astringent, demulcent, emollient, expectorant, pectoral and vulnerary. An infusion can be made that is used internally for the treatment of various respiratory complaints including coughs, bronchitis, asthma and throat irritations. An infusion of the fresh or dried flowers in olive oil is used to treat earaches, sores, wounds, boils etc. For nocturia (bedwetting), the root of Mullein is best, but some get fair results from the leaf, too.
The plant should be harvested while its in flower and dried quickly and with care so it doesn’t lose its medicinal qualities. To harvest, slice off the flower stalks when they’re at their yellowest, or, if you have enough time, pick off the individual flowers one by one, as they open. Dry your harvest until it’s thoroughly dry– the thickest bits snap, instead of bending. It doesn’t matter what color the flowers are- Most all yellow and white-flowered mullein species work, with the exception of perhaps Mullien Blattaria.
Dark Mulliens hold tremendous value for wildlife: The flowers are a good pollen and nectar source for a wide range of insects, particularly bees. Numerous seed-eating animals including birds, like goldfinch, feed on the small seeds produced. And the dead flowering stems provide hibernation sites for over-wintering invertebrates.
The tiny seeds are abundant and can remain viable for decades, or even centuries in the soil. However, Mullien is easily managed by manually removing the plants before seed-set, or not disturbing the soil, or establishing dense vegetative cover that will prevent seed germination. Sow seed indoors or late spring to summer to early fall outdoors. Prefers full sun in well drained soils.
Drought tolerant, low maintenance deer resistant, and attracts a wide variety of insects such as bees, flies, butterflies and other insects.