How a pest (mullein moth caterpillar) greatly increased my mullein flower harvest

How a pest (mullein moth caterpillar) greatly increased my mullein flower harvest

It is always a pleasant surprise when the odd mullein plant (Verbascum thapsus) turns up in my garden every now and then. The majority of my garden has the feel of a shady woodland so not your typical growing conditions for mullein . Fortunately my veggie patch has a good deal of sun and is well drained so I was happy to spot the unmistakable broad grey furry leaves of a baby mullein plant right at the front of my veg bed.

Rosette of leaves of mullein plant before flowering

I watched it grow over the next few weeks, the basal rosette of leaves getting larger and larger by the day almost. One day i noticed a few holes in the leaves and on closer inspection, a handful of black, yellow and white spotty/striped caterpillars. An internet search confirmed mullein moth caterpillar (Cucullia verbasci).

Should I pick them off and offer them to the chickens? Should I just leave them to it ? I hadn’t planted this mullein so it was a happy accident that it was in my garden in the first place. In the end I couldn’t bring myself to destroy them, I figured it wasn’t my place to play God on this one so I left them to it.

Usual single stemmed mullein flower stalk

Over the next few weeks, I watched with interest and some dismay as every single one of the big broad furry leaves were reduced to tattered strips and the centrally emerging flower stalk was annihilated. All eaten and covered in caterpillar shit. I assumed that was the end for the mullein plant but consoled myself with the thought that at least a new generation of mullein moths would be born into the world in the next few years.

Then something really lovely started to happen. Gradually, new flower stalks began bursting out from all around the old eaten flower stalk. The growth culminated with a huge multi pronged candelabra of flower stalks around 5 feet tall, each stalk plastered with mullein flowers.

Multi-stalked flowering mullein after caterpillar feasting

Every couple of days I was able to harvest mullein flowers. Each time I picked a batch, I could see masses of new flower buds behind them just waiting for their chance to bloom. Mullein is such a generous plant anyway, giving medicinal gifts in the form of flowers, leaves and even roots. And of course, masses of seeds for re-planting.

One of many mullein flower harvests

Altogether, I have harvested around 25g of flowers from one plant, all thanks to the ‘pest’ called the mullein moth. Over the next few years the caterpillars will emerge from their below ground slumber as mullein moths. I look forward to their future caterpillar offspring and this time will welcome them with open arms!

Mullein flowers all dried out and ready for use

Find out more about the medicinal uses of mullein flowers (and leaves and root) here.




Help idle women to create the UK’s first physic garden dedicated to women and girls

Help idle women to create the UK’s first physic garden dedicated to women and girls

idle women, the organisation who creates contemporary art with women are
launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise £25,000 to buy land in Nelson in
Lancashire for the UK’s first physic garden for women and girls.
idle women’s physic garden will be dedicated to medicinal herbs that women have
used for centuries, from menstruation to pregnancy and childbirth, and beyond to
menopause and old age. The garden will be planned, designed and developed with
and by local women in collaboration with female experts in herbalism, garden design,
women’s health and horticulture. Women will be able to learn practical skills including
architectural landscaping, building (for an outdoor classroom and compost toilet) and
gardening, as well as participate in seasonal workshops on natural health using herbs
for culinary and medicinal purposes. The garden will also be a peaceful retreat where
women can take a break from daily routines, make new friends or simply have space
for reflection.


Using fresh garlic for ear problems

Using fresh garlic for ear problems

Earache, glue ear, otitis media (ear infections), hearing loss through catarrh or earwax build and even perforated eardrums can all benefit from applications of fresh garlic. The volatile oils in the garlic are truly adept at helping to shift infections, thin catarrhal fluids, speed up tissue repair, ease pressure and help the body to speed up the healing process.

One tried and tested method is to put some drops of garlic infused oil into the affected ear. Pour a little vegetable oil (I prefer cold pressed olive oil but you can use anything you have to hand) into an eggcup and crush a large clove or 2 of fresh garlic, adding it to the oil. Cover it and put it somewhere out of direct sunlight for several hours to allow the garlic to infuse into the oil. When you are ready, strain out the garlic pieces and you should have a small batch of garlic smelling oil. You can warm this gently if needed to make it runnier.

Use a pipette or a piece of clean cloth or cotton wool to drop several drops of oil into the ear. Tilt the head to one side (bad ear facing up) to make this process easier. I keep adding drops until I can see the oil almost filling the ear canal then plug the ear very gently with some cotton wool. This is ideally done just before bedtime and can be left in overnight. Remove the cotton wool plug next morning. You can rinse the ear clean with a little cooled boiled water if you want to but this isn’t needed, just a wipe round the ear hole is usually enough. Repeat the next night if necessary, using a freshly made batch of garlic oil. I wouldn’t suggest using this method if you know or suspect that the eardrum is perforated.

Another method is to put a piece of fresh garlic directly into the ear. For this you need to choose a clove of garlic and shave one end to a rounded point using a knife (this cut end goes into the ear). This enables the essential oils to penetrate the ear more readily. Make sure the uncut end (the end that will stick out) is fairly fat to enable easy removal. Place the cut end into the ear and leave overnight or for a few hours. Be aware that the clove of garlic often falls out at some point during the night and turns up somewhere in the bed. Repeat daily as needed with a fresh clove. This is a safer method if the eardrum is perforated as there is no direct contact with the drum but remove the garlic regularly to allow any fluids coming from the ear to drain out. Sometimes the patient (especially children) will complain that the fresh garlic stings. If this is the case, remove and dip the clove in some olive oil before reinserting. The oil acts as a soothing barrier to protect delicate ear passages.

I have used both methods many times over the years on my children, friends, family and private clients, generally with excellent results. However, one incident stays in my mind………I suggested the whole garlic method to a friend as they didn’t want the hassle of making up the oil. Her one ear was painful due to a heavy head cold. She shaved a piece of garlic, put it in her ear and went to bed. The next day she tried to remove it but as she tried to grasp the slippery little clove, it slipped further into her ear. She asked her partner to help and he also managed to push it further into the ear. Eventually, and in a bit of a panic, she turned up unannounced at her local doctors surgery and whispered to the receptionist that she urgently needed to see a nurse or doctor and explained the situation. She was ushered into a room and a nurse promptly plucked it from her ear with a blunt ended tweezers. She left the surgery relieved and somewhat embarrassed by her ordeal but gave the staff of the doctor’s surgery a good laugh and an amusing story to tell!

The lesson of this tale is to select a large piece of garlic and shave one end only and place (don’t push too far) the garlic into the ear very gently and ensure that a large enough portion is sticking out from the ear. If you are concerned, try wrapping the prepared clove in a very thin piece of cloth (clean of course) such as muslin or similar, place the wrapped cut end of the clove in the ear then twist the fabric that is sticking out of the ear so you have a kind of handle to grab hold of.


Snorting chilli powder for blocked sinuses/sinusitis.

Snorting chilli powder for blocked sinuses/sinusitis.


A dear friend, lets call him Bill, had been suffering from chronic sinusitis flare ups for a few years. It had got worse over the years after receiving crushing blows to the face and head during martial arts training and fighting. Bill was in his late 30’s at the time and was otherwise healthy, fit and with a lust for life.

Each winter he would get the tell tales signs of sinusitis coming on, in his case this meant runny eyes and a hard to bare pressure headache all around his upper face and forehead.

Visiting his house one evening, I suggested he try snorting a small amount of chilli powder as I had heard that this could offer great relief. As you can imagine, he was reluctant at first and questioned if it was safe and whether it would work. I assured him that I had seen it done and that no-one had been injured in any way  (on one of my herbal training weeks we had all tried a pinch of special “snuff’ containing tiny amounts of chilli powder, mustard powder and other similar explosive type plant materials), except for a few surprised faces and coughs and gasps.

He went off into his kitchen and got on with the business. A few minutes later I heard shouting and the kind of noises that humans make when they are in great distress. As I entered the kitchen, Bill was on all fours punching the hard kitchen floor and shouting profanities. He looked up at me with eyes and nose streaming, face reddened with veins bulging all over his face and a look to me that enquired “why would you do this to me?”.

After reassuring and comforting him I asked how much chilli he had snorted and he informed me that it was a fair sized ‘line’ of chilli about 6 cms long up each nostril, using a straw. The suggested efficacious dose is about a pinch up each nostril. An idea of how big a pinch is, look at your little finger nail and divide that in half. One half is about enough for a pinch.

His distress lasted for another 10 minutes or so, gradually fading, as if he had just gone several rounds with Mike Tyson and was now allowed to rest and recuperate. He said he felt much better.

The next morning his streaming eyes and pressure headache had gone and he has not had an incident of sinusitis since (this was about 15 years ago).  He only needed this treatment once but then it was a heroic dose.

I also learnt a valuable lesson….to be very specific on dosage and instructions and to give my personal friends as much care and attention as I would a paying client!

Read so much more about the incredible healing powers of the humble chilli at our main information site and buy organic chilli powder or tincture in our online shop.