Saturday, November 3, 2012

The yellow flower of summer

The mulleins are a group of flowering plants native to Europe and Asia. They are well represented in the Mediterranean. 

Two species are native to the Maltese islands while another species which used to be cultivated can nowadays be found growing wild in gardens where it used to be grown.

The lack of diversity is made up for by the beauty of the two indigenous species. The most common is the wavy-leaved mullein which flowers from May to July. The vivid yellow flowers grow along a stalk that can grow up to one metre high way above the dry vegetation that characterises the Maltese countryside during the hot dry summer months.  

In Maltese it is known as xatbet l-andar meaning the gate to the threshing floor. 

The threshing floor was an area of land where the soil is flattened and beaten solid by the farmers to thrash to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

The glandular mullein which has no Maltese name is also indigenous but very rare and one would have to be very lucky to find it in the Maltese countryside. 

Another species, the great mullein, is native in countries to the north of  Malta. It was probably cultivated here for its flowers and possibly for its medicinal properties.

The great mullein has been used medicinally for centuries and was once credited with magical properties. It was used as a remedy for sore throat, cough and lung diseases.  The flowers and leaves were used as an infusion to reduce mucus formation and to stimulate the coughing up of phlegm. 

Mullein is emollient and makes a good wound healer. It has many other medicinal uses and in the past it was used to treat toothache and as a heart tonic.

The flowers are used to produce a yellow dye and an infusion can be applied to hair to give it a golden colour. In the past some people believed that witches used lamps and candles with mullein wicks in their incantations. 

This article was published in The Times on 18.07.2012

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