The monthly musings of a Druid Herbalist living in New England.
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Hag's Tapers for Halloween!
Hag’s Tapers For Halloween
Preparations for the great Samhain (Halloween) festival are upon us as the fall season sets in. A few centuries ago, before there were flashlights, our ancestors carried torches or lanterns. Those who lived in country areas also made use of a common wayside plant called Mullein (Verbascum spp.) to light their way on dark nights.
When I first moved into the house I live in, there was no Mullein in the yard so I went outside and called it in, singing of my need, and within a year it started to appear. However, Mullein refuses to grow where I scatter the seeds. It prefers to pop up in the most unpredictable places, usually from cracks in the cement patio.
Mullein has many other names; Aaron’s Rod, blanket-leaf, Candle-wick, Feltwort, Jacob’s staff, Old Man’s Flannel, Shepherd’s Club, Velvet Dock, Velvet Plant, Punchón, Gordolobo, Wild Ice Leaf, Our Lady’s Flannel, Hedge Taper, Torches, Candelaria and Quaker’s Rouge. Many of these names refer to the use of Mullein as a torch or a wound herb. (“Quaker’s Rouge” refers to the custom of young ladies rubbing their faces with the slightly irritating leaves to make their cheeks glow).
See images here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verbascum_thapsus
I like to imagine the old women of the village winding down a dark country road, maybe on their way to a Witches’ Coven, leaning on their walking sticks and trying hard not to stumble on roots and stones. Being poor they are dressed in the simplest black and they carry Hag’s Tapers to light their way.
Making Hag’s Tapers
To make Hag’s Tapers you must seek out old Mullein stalks. The plant likes to grow in disturbed ground so they will often be found near roadways and train tracks. Cut the tall stalk at the base and dry it upside down in an old paper bag.
The stalks are dried this way because as they desiccate they release their seeds which can be planted in the fall (by scattering lightly on the ground) in a sunny garden area. However, the herb is biennial so the tall stalk won’t appear until the second year.
Once the stalks are dry, soak the heads in a mixture of one half hot melted wax and one half hot oil, melted lard or suet (I like to save old bee’s wax candles and melt them down for this purpose). Lift the heads out of the oil and wax mixture and allow them to dry slightly, and then dip again. Repeat a few times.
When the flower heads are fully waxed and dry you can light the tip of your Hag’s Taper, and use it as a torch in a religious procession or any time you want to take a walk in the dark when there is no moon. Through experimentation I have found that the Tapers yield five minutes of light per inch of flower head burned.
Those wise old women of the village would no doubt have known how to use Mullein for many other purposes.
Mullein for Coughs and other Lung Conditions
Think of Mullein leaf when there is a tight cough, especially if there is stubborn “stuck phlegm” that is hard to budge. Mullein leaf alone or combined with soothing Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) or Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) is a great expectorant, especially if there is dry cough and congestion. Steep 1 teaspoon of leaf in 1 cup freshly boiled water for about half an hour. Take ¼ cup at a time, every few hours, up to two cups a day. (Amounts mentioned in this article assume that the person taking the tea is a 150 pound adult. Adjust the amount according to body weight, for example a 75 pound child would take half as much).
Mullein leaf can be combined with Elderberry (Sambucus nigra, S. Canadensis) in tinctures as a lung tonic to help with bronchitis, coughs and other respiratory conditions.
Dry asthma and chronic lung conditions may be helped by the leaf tea and also by inhaling the smoke. Mullein leaf is a good emergency medicine for those having a severe asthma attack. Set the dried leaves on a hot plate and inhale the smoke to calm respiratory spasms.
Caution: Some people may be sensitive to the hairs on the leaves. Filter the tea through an organic coffee filter to prevent further irritation of a sore throat.
Mullein for Ear Infections
Mullein flowers tend to open individually along the stalk so you will need to revisit your plant daily and gather the blossoms as they pop open. Fill a brown or blue glass jar with the flowers and just barely cover with good quality oil (I like cold pressed olive oil). Screw the lid on the jar tightly and leave it outside in the hot sun for twenty one days. The flowers will rot inside the jar, forming their own alcohol as a preservative.
After twenty one days or so, strain the contents of the jar through a cheese cloth and bottle. The resulting oil will be excellent for bacterial infections in the ear, “swimmer’s ear”, etc.
Caution: if the ear drums are ruptured do not place the oil into the ear!
To apply the oil: warm slightly in a pan or by holding a tablespoonful over a candle flame for a few seconds, then use a dropper to put the oil into the ear, and pack with cotton. Leave in overnight.
Try adding a few drops of garlic oil for severe infections.
It will be helpful to eat fresh garlic and take Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia) internally in the case of severe or chronic ear infections. Also try eliminating dairy from the diet for two weeks and then follow with probiotic supplements and foods.
The flower oil can also be used to treat ear mites in animals and to help soften accumulations of ear wax in humans.
Mullein for Swollen Lymph Glands
Dry Mullein leaves can be simmered slightly in hot water until soft, cooled and then applied to a swollen lymph gland, or the fresh leaves can be bruised slightly and laid on the area. Swollen glands in the throat will be helped if Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia) is taken internally at the same time.
A poultice of Mullein combined with one quarter part Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is very helpful for swollen glands. Make a fomentation by steeping Mullein leaves alone or with a little Lobelia, and then soak a cloth in the tea. Fill the soaked cloth with the plant matter, fold and apply to a swollen gland.
Drink the tea or take the tincture of the root or flower concurrently for greatest effect.
Mullein and Muscles
My teacher, William LeSassier, taught me to use Mullein for sore muscles and traumatic injury where there is pain and swelling, such as “whip lash”. He would combine Mullein root, flower or leaf, Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis, Matricaria Chamomilla) leaves and flowers, and Sage (Salvia officinalis) to make a poultice.
If dried herbs are being used you should pour a little boiled water over them to soften them.
If fresh herbs are used just put them in the blender with a little water and grind them up coarsely.When the leaves are soft enough pour them into a bowl and add a handful of powdered Slippery Elm bark (Ulmus fulva) (if you don’t have Slippery Elm on hand use Spelt or Buckwheat flour), then mix with your fingers until you have a “pie dough” consistency. Form into a ball and roll onto a clean cloth with a rolling pin (if you don’t have a rolling pin use a glass bottle). Apply to the affected area for one hour, and then discard the poultice.
Mullein and Your Bones
Slipped discs, old fractures that are still painful, pain in the hips, small broken bones in the hands and feet, problems with spine alignment, arthritic pain, sprains, and joint pains can be helped by a Mullein poultice. Take a few drops of the root tincture concurrently, several times a day.
Mullein and Your Skin
Steep the leaves in vinegar and hot water, then cool and apply to skin inflammations and hemorrhoids.
Mullein for Pain
Old Chronic injuries; sharp pains in the joints, neck, spine, arthritis pain, sciatica, nerve damage, and broken bones may benefit from the root tincture taken internally (about 15 drops in water every few hours).
The flowers can be taken as tea or tincture for recent injuries.
Herbalist David Winston has used Mullein for facial nerve pain (combined with nervines such as Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia piscipula).
Mullein and Your Bladder
Mullein root may help tone the bladder when there is weakness such as bedwetting, adult incontinence or prostate inflammation (provided the condition is not related to sexual abuse or emotional trauma). Take ½ teaspoon tincture in ¼ cup water or ¼ cup of the root tea before bed.
Mullein is mildly astringent and can reduce inflammation in the bladder. Think of it when there are recurring bladder infections, cystitis or benign prostatic hypertrophy.
Caution: some people may experience contact dermatitis from handling the leaves.
Mullein and Magic
The wise old women that I referred to at the beginning of this article would have no doubt been aware of its magical gifts; the root is an aid in grounding a person and can be carried on your person, worn as a charm, or the tincture rubbed onto your body.
Mullein, with its bright yellow flowers and torch making properties is said to drive away evil spirits and to protect a person from ill-intentioned sorcery.
According to Frazer in The Golden Bough, Mullein was once passed through the Midsummer fire, to make a charm to protect the herds.
The powdered leaf can be used as a substitute for graveyard dust, according to ancient Grimoires.
You can find more herbal and magical info in my books and DVDs. Purchase from my site and get a signed copy with a personal note! www.elleneverthopman.com
Beyerl, Paul, A Compendium of Herbal Magick, Phoenix Publishing Inc., Washington, USA, 1998
Hopman, Ellen, A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year, Destiny Books, Rochester, VT, 1995
Lust, John, The Herb Book, Bantam books, New York, 1974
McDonald, Jim, Mullein, http://herbcraft.org/mullein.html accessed 5/17/2013
Rose, Kiva, A Golden Torch: Mullein’s Healing Light, http://bearmedicineherbals.com/a-golden-torch-mullein%E2%80%99s-healing-light.html accessed 5/17/2013
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