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Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein


Not a terribly interesting plant unless you are an ancient Roman with an abscess.

Blog Entries

Read more about Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein, in these blog entries (most recent first);
How tall does a Verbascum have to be to reach a record height?



Meaning of the Name

Possibly from the Latin ‘ver’, ‘spring’ and ‘barbatus’, ‘beard’ from the plant’s hairy stamens.
Strictly, ‘from Mount Olympus’ but ‘Olympus’ may also translate as ‘heaven’ and so the plant may be a gift from the gods.

Common Names and Synonyms

Greek mullein, donkey's ears, bunny's ears, velvet plant

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

It contains a narcotic but its exact nature is not defined.

Not harmful to humans to any extent but it is said to particularly affect fish.

In American Medicinal Plants, Charles F. Millspaugh lists the effects of ingestion of a very large quantity, 30 to 40 ounces, of a tincture made from Mullein. Curiously, many of the symptoms are said to occur only on the left side. Its narcotic action is said to disappear after two hours.

Verbascum Southern Charm

Verbascum 'Southern Charm' - a relative of
Verbascum olympicum


No reported incidents of human poisoning but it is reported to have been used by poachers and in the TV series, Bushcraft, Ray Mears joined a tribe on the Amazon who fish by putting Verbascum leaves in the river to make the fish sleepy.

Folklore and Facts

According to Pliny the Elder, it cures superficial abscess in a poultice made of pounded root, sprinkled in wine and wrapped in leaves but only if the patient fasts and the poultice is applied by a naked maiden who has also been fasting. The maiden must say ‘Apollo tells us that plague cannot grow more fiery in a patient if a naked maiden quench the fire’.

Mandragora is an alternative treatment for abscesses but does not require the involvement of a naked maiden so may not have been as popular.

Verbascum was grown in monastery gardens to keep out the devil. In the Alnwick Garden Poison Garden it was grown by the fence in the corner near the cannabis. Was that to try to keep out the little devils who might be tempted to climb over the fence to reach the cannabis?