Mullein is the common name of a number of species in the Verbascum genus. Verbascum thapsus (also Verbascum densifolium) grows throughout Germany in open fields and roadsides. It is a biennial which prefers sandy soils and its stately second-year growth is a welcome sight for the interested observer. Mullein is a native Eurasian plant with a long history of medicinal use. It was brought to North America by early settlers and it did not take long before it became part of the ethnobotanical repertoire of many Native American tribes. Smoking the leaves was thought to have a calming effect in addition to clearing the respiratory tract. Interestingly, Native Americans realized that mullein could be an effective fishing aid. Once released in a stream, the seeds temporarily paralyze the fish, thus facilitating their catch. Indeed mullein contains rotenone, a fish poison which naturally occurs in certain plants and is found in both mullein seeds and seed capsules.
Mullein has a number of suggestive common names in German, from Koenigskerze (king’s candle) to Wetterkerze (weather candle). The latter reveals an understandably common preoccupation of northern Europeans, namely the weather. According to German folklore, careful observation of the flowering display of mullein can predict future weather patterns. Mullein plants with a greater number of flowers on the lower part of the stalk forecast snow before Christmas, whereas a greater number of flowers on the upper part of the stalk means the first snow will not arrive until after the New Year. Fortunately, our (admittedly amateur) first reading of the mullein flower arrangements in Berlin predicts a late winter. So, we’ve decided to interpret this as a long and hopefully warm fall this year!
If you’d like to make your own weather predictions, feel free to look at our map to see where you can find some mullein nearby (although it grows freely all over Berlin).