What Was I Thinking?

by Cynthia on September 18, 2008

Last year two Common Mulleins (Verbascum thapsus) appeared in my herb garden out of nowhere. It really is not that surprising considering they do grow wild around here. I was nevertheless pleased to see them and allowed them to stay. Mullein, after all is a truly useful herb to have growing in one’s garden.  As the summer progressed I enjoyed looking out and seeing these two sentries of the garden towering over the rest of the plants.

Summer passed and I was equally delighted to watch a woodpecker go to town pecking away at the drying mullein flower stalks. To be able to watch him do that regularly from my deck is a fond memory I have from last year’s garden.

So, I allowed the mullein to reside in the garden all through fall and into winter where it became a perch for other visiting birds. Come early spring the tough mullein stalk still remained and I allowed my boys to use them as spears in their play.

That brings us to today. Today I find the herb garden completely and utterly full of mullein seedlings that will not stop germinating. I must have pulled a thousand by now, easily. Where I pull one it seems 10 more pop up overnight. I honestly had no idea those stately mulleins from last year would self-sow with such abandon.

Mullein Everywhere

Pulling them out is quite tiresome but I do not mind too much as I do find mullein to be extremely handy to have around. It’s leaves are also rather interesting as they are soft and thick in their rosettes. 


Mullein Closeup

Mullein also has wonderful medicinal properties that come in handy during the cold and flu season. For those more interested in the medicinal properties of mullein I suggest following this link. This site briefly explains the medicinal aspects of mullein such as it being an excellent herb for coughs plus it features a recipe for making mullein oil which is used in helping earaches.

I ask myself, “what was I thinking” when I go out to the herb garden and have to yet again weed out more mullein babies. Even though it has had to compete with the Cosmos for space it still manages to run amuck. I have since learned that one mullein plant can produce over 100,000 seeds! I am afraid I may be pulling these out forever now. Really, what was I thinking?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Sheila September 18, 2008 at 4:15 pm

I too love Mullein and had some in a wildflower mix I used one time. From then on I had it everywhere. These days I prefer the hybrids that are a bit more civilized.

Hi Sheila,
I like how your statement on the hybrids being much more civilized. :) I agree and some of the hybrids are very pretty. Last year I grew a variety called Southern Charm in a pot and it was gorgeous. Unfortunately, it did not like our wet winters and rotted out. -Cynthia


Racquel September 18, 2008 at 5:42 pm

It happens Cynthia. We get mesmerized by the beauty of the plant or the way it looks in the garden or the medicinal qualities (in your case) and next thing we know it’s taking over. I am still pulling Morning Glory seedlings from 2 or 3 years ago. It keeps showing up in the garden and hiding behind things. :)

Hi Racquel,
Maybe it is good the slugs ate my Morning Glory seeds as soon as they sprouted! I most certainly do not need any more eager volunteers in my garden! :) -Cynthia


Cinj September 18, 2008 at 6:28 pm

I’ve had to learn that lesson many times over. I find as I deal with plants that I become more familiar with I learn more about them and figure out new ways to control them and their spread. I have a wild area of my yard that I don’t do anything with. That way I can enjoy the beauty of the weeds without having them in my garden.

Good advice Cinj! Too bad I didn’t think this way last year. I read somewhere that mullein is usually a solitary plant. Maybe in the wild! It is everywhere in my garden! From now on I think I will be admiring it from a distance – that is if I can keep it out now…. -Cynthia


Anna September 18, 2008 at 6:55 pm

That is a lot of seeds! I think you may be at this for awhile to come. A moment on the lips is forever on the hips. Where is my chocolate? Looks like they take up lots of room too.

Hi Anna!
Yes, I am afraid I will be at this for awhile. And why does everything I read call this plant a biennial?! It is not acting like a biennial in my garden at all. Some are sending up flower stalks as I speak. Ack! More seeds!!! -Cynthia


Nancy Bond September 18, 2008 at 7:42 pm

Oh dear! Well, at least it’s attractive and useful. :)

Very true Nancy. I keep thinking it must be trying to tell me something. It is supposedly good for asthma and I am a chronic asthmatic so I was thinking it must want me to use it! ;) -Cynthia


Karen September 18, 2008 at 9:14 pm

I have the same issues with Evening Primrose – I like its tallness for structure in the garden, but find myself cursing it when it seeds itself everywhere I don’t want it! I went to a garden lecture once where a chief gardener at a famous English garden said he allows verbascum and verbena bonariensis to reseed, but then they have an army of assistants to “edit” out the many that are unwanted. Maybe you can recruit your kids at a penny a pop to help you out!? :)

Hi Karen,
I like that- how they “edit” out the unwanted seedlings! I could probably recruit my kids to pull up the mullein babies but I would probably have to pay more than a penny a pop. It seems inflation has driven up their prices as well! ;) -Cynthia


Karyn September 19, 2008 at 5:33 am

:) is all I can say. Been there and still doing that, Pulling babies too. Guess it’s a good thing they are easy to pull and have such nice feeling leaves. A pleasant plant to pull. Next year cut the seed stalk just before they are done flowering and that should help a bit.

I think biennial is ment by the way they flower. The babies growing this year will not flower next year, but just grow bigger then flower the following year. At least that’s what they do here.


Hi Karyn,
Oh I know what is meant by them being a biennial and these in my garden are most certainly NOT acting like biennials. The babies that came up in the beginning of summer are now flowering! And you can bet I will not be letting them go to seed. :) -Cynthia


Mrs. Greenhands September 19, 2008 at 6:44 am

Welcome to my world! I made the same mistake several years ago and the mullein has practicely taken over my medicinal herb garden. But its fuzzy leaves are so nice to touch and the birds just love them!

Hi Mrs. Greenhands!
I also like their fuzzy leaves. It was also so neat to see the woodpecker on the stalks last year. I was amazed at how strong the stalks are once they are dried. I have read that they were once dipped in wax and used as torches and I can see why! -Cynthia


Lzyjo September 19, 2008 at 7:19 am

OMG!! I’m so glad you warned me! I allowed two to grow in the front flower bed, just because I love of those alluringly fuzzy leaves. Now, they have got to go!

Hi lzyjo,
I’m so glad I was able to warn someone! It is nice to read that someone can learn from one of my previous gardening “adventures”. I refuse to call it a mistake as now I know another plant a little better. :) -Cynthia


Barbee' September 19, 2008 at 9:18 am

Oh, don’t you love those warm, soft leaves! The young ones are easy to chop, and they don’t come back after that like a dandelion does. Henry Mitchell wrote something like this: Every year there is mullein in the garden, then one year you look around and realize: there is no mullein! They are intriguing plants. I did a post about one on my web site a few years ago.

Hi Barbee’,
You are so right, they do come up easy and do not return like the impossible dandelion. Did you mean you did a post on your blog about mullein? If so, then when I can grab a few more minutes I will go search it out. :) -Cynthia


Karen September 19, 2008 at 11:36 am

PS Just put up a post about volunteers in my garden, and led off with a link to this post. Hope that’s okay! :) – Karen

Of course that is okay Karen! :) Who doesn’t love to see someone link to their blog? And I really enjoy reading your blog so I am honored. :) :) -Cynthia


Megan September 19, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Good reminder. I need to get out there and cut down my plume poppy flowers before they go to seed (more), but I don’t want to. I have enough invasive weeds already.

Hi Megan,
One man’s weed is another man’s flower! I would love to have your plum poppy problem! :) Poppies are finicky for me. -Cynthia


Aerie-el September 24, 2008 at 11:26 am

One of my friends said that if you see a plant growing rampantly along the side of the road, or in a field, it’s probably a weed. I remember seeing horsetail along the side of the road after moving to the Seattle area and thinking how cool it looked. I’m SO glad I didn’t encourage any of those in my gardens!
Mullein is a biennial plant, but there could be some plants with mutated genes out there, or the plant may think its gone thru its cycle/s based on the odd weather we’ve had. A hiking buddy told me that the mullein leaves are also known as ‘nature’s toilet paper’. The leaves sure feel softer than some European toilet paper.

Hi Aerie-el,
It sounds like your friend has some good advice for us! Horestail is beautiful as well as useful but I would
never put it in the garden! :)
I have been wondering if the strange weather we have had this year is to blame for the mullein behaving more like an annual. I was actually very surprised to see so many sending up flower stalks this year- the first year it sprouted- when I know it to be a biennial.
It is a very useful plant. I’ve heard the leaves have been used as bandages much like lamb’s ear. But toilet paper is a new one! :) -Cynthia


Brynn Dahlquist February 9, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Ack! This is a good thing to now know. We normally go visit the logging clear cuts to harvest our Mullein. I had considered moving it closer to home, but perhaps I will let it naturally reseed itself all the way over in their space.

I use it around our house for our “weed tea” that we drink when we start to get sick. What do you use yours for?


Cynthia February 9, 2013 at 10:58 pm

I like to use the leaves for respiratory ails– I am an asthmatic and I add it to a tea to help my lungs when I get sick and congested. I also use the flowers to make mullein oil for ear aches. It is a good weed– just a bit too aggressive in my garden. :) Thank you for commenting :)


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