The name mullein probably comes from the Latin word Mollis, meaning soft, referring to the plant’s woolly stem and leaves. The name also might relate to the Latin malandrium, meaning malanders, a cattle disease for which mullein was used as a remedy.
A couple of folk names for mullein have more intriguing associations. “Candlewick plant” refers to the old practice of using the dried down of mullein leaves and stems to make lamp wicks. The custom of using mullein for torches dates back at least to Roman times.
“Jacob’s staff,” “Jupiter’s staff” and “Aaron’s rod” all have been used as names for the tall flower stalks. The plant’s soft leaves also are known commonly as “bunny’s ears” and “flannel leaf.
~ Planting and Growing Instructions ~
Mullein is drought-resistant and grows easily from seed. Sow the seeds about 6 inches apart and 1/16 inch deep in ordinary, well-drained soil, or scatter seeds on top of the soil as the seeds are light-dependent germinators.
A location in full sun is preferable, but mullein will grow in light shade. Clumps of seedlings and low rosettes will arise the first year. By the second year, the mature plants will provide a tall vertical element in the garden.
Mullein can grow up to seven feet in height in ideal conditions. It is characterized by a rosette of long fuzzy pale green leaves that sprout a pinnacle of tightly packed, bright yellow flowers in its second year. This biennial blooms throughout the summer and develops seed pods in autumn. Shortly after the seed pods drop the plant will die.