Verbascum Thapsus. Mullein.
Description: Natural Order, Scrophulariaceae. This is the tall mullein common to roadsides, pastures, and other trodden grassy lands. Radical leaves very large, oval, rounded at the apex, lying upon the ground; stem leaves alternate, gradually decreasing in size, and descending along the stem so as to give it a winged appearance; all gray or yellowish-green from the dense layer of stellate wool with which they are covered. Stem three to six feet high, rising erect and unbranched in the midst of the radical leaves, an inch or more in diameter, woolly. Flowers sessile, in a raceme along the upper portion of the stem for many inches; calyx five-parted; corolla open, wheel-shaped, five-parted, yellow, half an inch in diameter.
Properties and Uses: The leaves of this coarse-looking plant are relaxant, with a trace of tonic property. Their action is quite soothing, and moderately antispasmodic; and an infusion is a deservedly popular remedy in sub-acute dysentery and diarrhea, probably from their action on the lacteals. They have been commended in catarrhal coughs, spitting of blood, and piles. I would particularly call the attention of the profession to their peculiar and reliable power over the absorbent system, to which they seem a specific relaxant; and their power in promoting absorption in cellular dropsy, chronic abscesses, pleuritic effusions, and similar accumulations of fluid, is truly remarkable. For these purposes, the better method is to make a strong decoction of the leaves, and wilt other leaves in this and bind them over the part. They may be employed to similar purpose in synovial dropsy, and scrofulous and other swellings; though it is not proper to use them on carbuncles, buboes, cancers, and other swellings from which it would be injurious to have a deposit absorbed.
A strong decoction (especially of the roots) may be used inwardly at the same time; and if tonics and some capsicum be added to this, such an outward and inward use of the article is of great value in all forms of dropsy, including abdominal and ovarian. Only a few articles of the Materia Medica exert a decided influence on the absorbents, and the mullein is one of the most reliable of these; though its prominent relaxing character often calls for the association of some diffusive stimulus, especially of sassafras and polemonium. While promoting absorption, it is a most positive anodyne; and relieves the suffering of chronic abscesses, tendonous and synovial swellings, etc.
I have known a fomentation of the leaves speedily to allay the intense pain of a cancer, though mischief subsequently resulted from the application; but this fact points to the great power this agent must exert over the nervous system, and suggests a wide field in which to investigate its uses. J. Weeks, M. D., of Mechanicsburg, Ind., tells me that a fomentation of the leaves at night, applied over the chest, gives great relief to pectoral distress in old coughs, and improves the lungs rapidly. He also says that a tincture of the stem with the flowers on, is excellent in painful and debilitated coughs, asthma, etc. I have found some advantage in using a strong ointment, made from the extract, upon scrofulous swellings; though the leaves are preferable. Some use fomentations of the leaves in mumps, piles, white swellings, etc. The article certainly deserves the first attention for its powers as an innocent anodyne and promoter of absorption. Its relaxing taste is sometimes unpleasant to the stomach, and cummin or coriander may be used as an adjuvant.
For internal uses, an ounce may be boiled in a quart of milk for diarrhea and dysentery, and used freely every hour or two; or two ounces may be made into a pint of decoction, with strong pressure of the dregs, and given in doses of a fluid ounce every hour or two, for dropsical cases and antispasmodic purposes. An extract may be made by evaporating the decoction; but the great sponginess of the leaves requires frequent digestion and very strong pressure to obtain their total strength for this purpose.
A late letter from C. Gardner, M. D., of Lee Center, Ill., says: "I expressed the juice of the bruised mullein leaves, made it into a soft extract by drying in the sun, mixed one part of this with two parts of spermaceti, and used this ointment with the happiest effects on irritable and inflamed piles."
The flowers are said, by Rafinesque, to be peculiarly soothing in cough preparations. By exposing them in a vial to the sun, they yield a little very relaxing oil.
The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com