Ida Valley Musings – Witches Taper - Jillian Sullivan

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Ida Valley Musings – Witches Taper

mullein plantWitches taper – I liked the sound of that name, and my first attraction to the plant woolly mullein during lockdown was to try lighting a dead seedhead and see if it worked.

Outside in the wind, no. Inside, lit by the fire, a quick blaze up and the smoke alarm set off. As a taper it wouldn’t last two seconds on Outlander, but further research revealed Roman soldiers first dipped the stalks in grease for torches.

I hadn’t had much regard for woolly mullein till I started reading about it. It seeds and grow in my driveway and on the edges of my garden and sends up a not particularly beautiful seed head, I thought. But I didn’t know the leaves of mullein have long been used for the treatment of respiratory tract infections.

burning mullein

In the Western USA, the soft downy leaves are known as ‘cowboy toilet paper’ (and by trampers here). The leaves were once used to line shoes on cold days. But in these days of respiratory infections, or even constant dry coughs, a tea or tincture of mullein leaves is said to be helpful (and noted almost 1000 years ago by Hildegard of Bingen).

I’ve picked and dried some leaves. Now to use some of that cheap vodka I bought for making hand sanitizer to make a 1:2 tincture for my cough.

In Ireland, mullein was grown to use against tuberculosis. The yellow flowers, soaked in oil, produce a healing oil for a child’s earache, or for lymphatic swellings. Could this plant I’ve yanked out or turned away from be something we ought to let grow in a corner of our gardens? Its seeds stay regenerative in the soil for up to 100 years. There’s something about that resilience that calls to me.

Yesterday was 24 degrees here, and a hot excursion on the hill for rosehip gathering. Today, wind strong out of the north-west, the willows roaring with it. Tomorrow, snow again, and time for tincture making, rosehip top and tailing, and more stewing of apples.

woolly mullein

About Jillian

Jillian is an award-winning author for children, young adults, and adults. A mother of 5, a Grandma of 9, a teacher of the 'Hero's Journey', a cyclist and a builder of strawbale houses.
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