Monday, November 29, 2010

The Huswife's Home Pharmacopea: Mullein

A few years ago I had the worst cold I’ve ever had in my life.  It might have been pnumonia but I was at a conference at an isolated resort and I never went to the doctor to find out.  My airways were severely constricted and when I coughed I wheezed like a newly landed fish. 

Fortunately, the resort spa sold tincture of mullein and it got me through the conference.  My airways opened up, coughing diminished, and all without that weird spacey feeling from  commercial decongestants. By the time I went home I was on the mend and comnpletely sold on mullein.  Since then I’ve kept it stocked in my medicine cabinet.  

A few years ago I was in Colorado and noticed it growing along the sides of the road.  I stopped and took a few stalks of seeds home and scattered them in a field, hoping to grow my own.  No luck.  Then I saw it in my brother-in-law’s yard in West Texas, took some seed home, and tried again.  Still no luck.  Fast forward six months:  I spot mullein growing along a road near my dad’s farm.  I took some seed home, scratched the earth, planted, watered, and watched.  No go.  I seemed cursed to buy tincture of mullein forever.  Six more months pass and what do I find growing along a small road near my house?  Right.  Mullein.  And lots of it.  It seems I can't make it grow where I will but it will grow where it wills. It just doesn't like the field where I was trying to grow it.  Around here, it prefers semi-shady, semi-cool, bottom land and thin, chalky soil, I think.  

So for now, I'll gather from the wild with a light hand and also try to find a spot on my land that's low and cool and chalky to scatter a little seed.  Because I definitely always, always want to have some on hand.  And I think you should too.

Uses:  Excellent for colds, coughs and any respiratory illness.  Honest, mullein is far superior to any over- the-counter or prescription cold medicine I've ever tried.  It is reputed to be good for skin rashes although I've no experience with this use.

Harvesting:  Leaves are the most practical part of the plant to harvest.  The flowers are useful as well, but they are tiny and must be harvested as they open.  Some folks also harvest the long taproot, but I never have.

To use:  Easiest is to make a tea from the leaves, either fresh or dried.  Be sure and strain the tea.  The leaves have little hairs that can tickle the throat if you ingest.  You can also make an alcohol-based tincture. 

If, like me, you don't have an immediate source for the plant,  you can buy the prepared tincture from most health food stores and Whole Foods.  I've also bought the dried leaves at our local farmer's market.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lost and Found

Discovered in the process of mowing my overgrown field:  favorite hat and gardening gloves.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Garden Wants to Kill Me

The biggest problem in the garden? The garden is a patch of about half an acre in the middle of a fenced acre of thick native thatch populated by the most hostile, pain-inducing stickers. The stickers are broken up by occasional cacti, fire ant mounds and needle-thorned mesquite.  Even when I was working on it regularly, stickers were a constant battle.  I had to wear heavy boots, gloves, and layers of denim.  I did my best to mow around the cultivated patch and create a kind of demilitarized zone, but the incursions from hostile plant life were frequent and unrelenting.

Now after six months of neglect, the garden has returned to its natural state of hostility to human flesh.  My puny little mower stalls out every few feet.  And with the children now, I don't have long stretches of time to devote to two-feet-at-a-time mowing. What's more, I can't take the kids with me to the garden because there are two many things out there that want to pierce tender young hides.

So what to do?  Do I buy a more powerful mower?  Hire someone with a tractor to plow the whole acre under and plant more flesh-friendly ground cover?  Give the project up as a folly?  I'm open to ideas.