Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mullein of Many Names

As I walked around before supper, wishing it was warmer but knowing it was raw and cold, I noticed an occasional mullein here and there on the side bank. The soil there is about worthless but it has what it takes to grow some interesting wild plants.

There was a time when I was pretty good at remembering a large variety of herbs but today's recall of mullein left me wondering. I resorted to our collection of horticultural books and this in itself created just another mystery. After sorting through three books, I pulled out Euell Gibbons Stalking The Healthful Herbs from 1966. Some memories there. I located the chapter on mulleins, 35. Great Mullein or Velvet Dock (VerbascumThapsus) p. 224. Fumbling around, I dropped the book to the floor and when I picked it up, I opened to the title page. There was an ink sketch of a flower and a note written on the page: "Gail-May you ever walk in harmony with the plants of the earth.....In joy and infinite love. Sue"

I read the inscription a few times. Who was Sue? This was Gail's book and knowing that Euell Gibbons books were long ago replaced on her reading list, I inquired "Who was Sue?" The mystery continued. Sue-Sue-Sue-Sue Who? Who was Sue? This went on for what seemed like ages and then came the brillance of a light turning on. Gail remembered--well kinda. Sue was a friend from high school days +30 years ago. She was a talented artist who moved to British Columbia to go to college. Was she still there?.....yet another mystery.

So mullein, the plant of many names, has a history of use as a cough medicine and an expectorant. Gibbons mentions a long list of common names begining with "flannel leaf, beggar's blanket, Adam's flannel, velvet plant, feltwort, bullock's lungwort, clown's lungwort, Cuddy's lungs, tinder plant, rag paper, candlewick plant and witch's candle." He lists other names too.

I remember pulling the old flower stalks, often 5-6 feet tall from the pastures and using them to keep the cows heading back to the barn. They also remind me of the domestic plant, Lamb's Ear, which we brought here from Burlington years ago. I think it lasted about 4-5 years and then one year succumbed to too many freeze-thaw cycles.

If you enjoy native plants and like to hike around like we do, a really great little pocket guide to consider is Wildflowers of Vermont by Kate Carter. The waterproof cover points out that the book details "255 wildflowers from Vermont's trailsides, roadsides, alpine summits, woodlands & bogs" . What I like is the book fits nicely into your pocket and is color coded by the flower color so you don't have to have a clue about what you're looking at to finalize the identification. A neat book by Cotton Brook Publications, Waterbury Center, Vermont. Gail gave me my copy for my birthday. No inscription like in the Gibbons book, just Kate Carter's signature. Where is Sue anyway?

From the hill above Peacham Pond
Evening wishes,

George Africa

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