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Edible, medicinal, or irritable?

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Wild Edibles

As I journeyed through the Shocco Creak game lands here in North Carolina in the fall of 2020 I came across several of the plants pictured above. While taking care of my family I generally try to incorporate as many activities as I can with each trip. That means when I'm out scouting for say deer, I'm also scouting for feral hog, rabbit, turkey, and wild edibles. There's no reason you can't go exploring, hunting, fishing, and gathering simultaneously. Nearly all the assistance I received from the venerated veteran outdoors people revolved around mullein, lambs ear, or rabbit tobacco. Now based on the information Google easily provides there is very little chance this is rabbit tobacco. Rabbit tobacco looks entirely different in all phases of its growth. So we can quickly move on to the alternatives. Mullein and lambs ear however do indeed share many features which could certainly lead one to mistake the two.

Both of these plants grow their fuzzy leaves in a similar shape which is what actually lead to lambs ear being named what it is. The leaf actually resembles the shape of you guessed it a lambs ear. The main difference as far as I can tell being a beginner with very little practical experience in identifying wild edibles and plants in the woods is that the mullein, especially the great mullein pictured above, grows in a shape or pattern of rosettes. While the lambs ear will generally grow in clumps. One will need to take care with both of these plants as some people may show an allergic reaction to the fine hairs on the leaves. There are many uses one may put either of these plants to, but one similarity is as an alternative to modern toilet paper.

Since I'm fairly confident in the fact that what I stumbled across was great mullein let's focus on the many uses that plant can be put to. As previously mentioned it can be used for personal hygiene, but the more common uses today are as tincture or oil to be applied topically to skin irritations, ear infections, or poultices as well as a tea or steam treatment for chest congestion, bronchitis, tuberculosis, asthma, constipation, migraines, or as a sleep aid. Now I need to be very clear here. I'm not recommending any of these treatments for any condition. I'm only listing here what it has been used for in the past. Always seek the advice of licensed medical services when adding a supplement or herbal remedy to your physical health routine. You should also never use a plant for any purpose unless you are 100% sure you have identified that plant correctly and know the proper methods to process that plant safely for the intended use.

Great mullein or verbascum thapsus is a biennial plant so the first year there will be no flowers. The second year however a tall thin stalk will develop with a yellow flower. In order to extract the oils the two main methods are to either boil the leaves and or flowers for a few hours in some kind of carrier oil, or simply soak the leaves and flowers in the carrier oil over a period of 7 to 10 days. This oil is then applied as a tincture or soaked into bandages for topical applications. For teas or steam treatments simply boil the cut leaves and flowers in water until reaching the desired color and flavor or breathe in the steam. There are some medical studies that show there may be some antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties to some of the compounds in great mullein. However, these studies are not very extensive nor are they fully conclusive. As previously mentioned discuss any and all uses with a licensed medical professional before it is taken, ingested, or applied.

There is some evidence to support the story that Roman soldiers dipped the stalks in grease or oil and used them as torches as well. Native Americans are also said to have ground the seeds and used the resulting powder to poison fish. Some people even used it as the sole of their sandals, or a patch for a hole in their shoes. For a more in depth study of this plant Google does list a number of resources. There are also a number of books about botany, wild plants, and plant identification that can provide more information. Below I will list some of the resources I have found on plant identification. If any of you know of others please feel free to post them in the comments.

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