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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All

by Alexis West of Redmond, OR
photo credit: ALXSw

According to Oregon Wild, some 500,000 acres of Oregon wildlands were developed in 2015. I find myself saddened to witness the western states morph into lawns, sprawl, and invasive species of plants and animals brought and force d upon the unsuspecting landscape by unwitting new… settlers. If you are developing land you are impacting, you are settling. That means less wildness: vehicle traffic and danger, exhaust fumes, unnatural lighting patterns, unnatural sounds. That means less habitat for all species that were innocently at home in trees, brush, and burrows, in the least, there’s somatic adjustment and at worst, displacement – a forced migration. Home sapiens is usually an invasive species with exceedingly egocentric manners. And we hit harder on what little is left as the options for indigenous species become increasingly narrow. It doesn’t have to be this invasive: a new settler could help deer, elk, or antelope by using undulate-specific-non-barbed fencing, a new settler could provide a surface water source and not remove surface water into a pipeline. A new settler could leave brush and wild plants for forage, cover, and animal burrows. Unless that new settler wants to blend with what life has been there, and invest in the long term notion of sustainability, the new settled place becomes another collection of structures, power lines, roads, vehicles, empty of connection to the land itself and empty of the creatures which once considered it home, habitat.

In this new settling, thus landscaping and gardening have become very critical, as many native species of plants have been mislabeled as ‘noxious’ since the mid-1990’s and are on the decline. Most county extension agents and federal ‘experts’ are still on the petroleum agriculture bandwagon and the best information these days is offered by the non-profits who have taken the role as defenders of nature. Case in point, the stability of pollenator populations (bees, butterflies, bumblebees, moths, dragonflies) have suffered from decades of poisoning and are now in serious decline.

As a result of corporate campaigns, county and state governments began routine chemical spraying along roadsides & waterways in the 1990’s. (Bayer, Dow, and Monsanto remain the most powerful chemical global corporations in the US.) In addition to routine roadside poisoning and surface water contamination, vast acres of agricultural fields across the U.S. are sprayed for chemical-based agriculture using herbicides and pesticides. The die-offs and decline of native pollenators is directly linked to the massive use of herbicides and pesticides. Honeybees, wild bees, bumblebees, butterflies, and moths are dying in alarming rates. The birds who eat poisoned invertebrates are also at risk. Audobon Society reported that in 2015 some 314 species of songbird populations are seriously in decline. The space between rare and extinct is very small. From the loss of pollenators what follows is that the food supply of homo sapiens is at risk. The message from our iconic pollenators is that most of the U.S. is toxic. URL’s for further research are listed at the end of this article.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

This is not abstract conjecture. Just up the road, a new landowner from the east coast mentioned he is poisoning all the weeds around his place. When I asked, he advised someone told him mullein is a ‘noxious weed.’ Let me cut to the chase, mullein is not noxious, nor is milkweed, nor is shepards purse, nor dandelion. Many common plants that volunteer in disrupted soil hold the soil from erosion. Many are medicinal. If you don’t eat shepards purse, milkweed pods, or dandelion, there are many small mammals that do. But let me focus on mullein for now. Spare your mullein plants. Celebrate your mullein plants. Let me share why.

While Mullein is more or less common across the west it “has found it’s niche” (Moore) in the West’s pinon/juniper and ponderosa belts. One can expect it to either be established in most of the West, or follow after soil has been opened, after development.

Mullein is biennial, flowering usually in its second year. It is recognized by broad, light sage green leaves in a ground rosette; the leaves are thick and soft as flannel. The second year it sends up one stalk from which branches of small yellow flowers bloom with infinitely tiny red seeds. The flowers are quite exotic with small splashes of red on the end of the stamen. The flowers do not open at the same time and so provide nectar from early spring through first frost. I witnessed wild bumblebees, several varieties of butterflies and wild bees on the many mullein plants across summer into fall. The flowering stalks can be quite tall providing both long seasonal nourishment, and a plethora of flowers to feed from. Moore notes that there are individual mullein plants that may last as long as four years, although most of them are biennial. They do spread easily and so should be recognized and welcomed, as they will help prevent erosion in broken topsoil in the worst of soil types. Furthermore, they are utterly soft to the touch, thornless, and while they give nectar to pollenators, they also provide medicine to homo sapiens.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

The medicinal qualities of Mullein primarily heal the lungs and throat. The dried leaves and flowers (collected in bloom) are useful for reducing spasms of the lungs in various intensities either as a tea (infusion of the dried leaves or flowers) or smoked.

The tea can be drunk in copious amounts for soothing bronchial infections. For more severe infections, infusion of the flowers is recommended as having the stronger potency. For precise directions, please refer to “Medicinal Plants of the Mountains West” by Michael Moore. Moore, a well-known modern herbalist (and composer) indicates that there is no toxicity in using mullein in any quantity. He does suggest straining the flower infusions to catch the tiny hairs which may tickle the throat of people with pronounced allergies.

Smoking the leaves is a centuries-old remedy for spasms from asthma and typical chest infections. Dried and sifted Mullein leaves are also blended with yarrow and other medicinal herbs for a purifying smoke blend used in traditional Navajo ceremonies.

If preparing an ear ointment, fresh flowers should be collected and steeped in olive oil in the sun or on a warm place, and later strained. This is particularly useful for children’s complaints and for dog ear mites.

Collecting mullein flowers is an act of meditation. Since the flowers blossom in a staggered sequence, collecting them is a lot like picking berries, they’re not all ripe at the same time. While collecting enough flowers to prepare a supply of mullein oil, I had occasion to enjoy the bounty of the bright yellow flowers daily with different species of western wild bees, bumblebees, birds, and butterflies. Moore mentions he collected flowers with a grapefruit spoon. The flowers have to be collected while in bloom so taking the entire stalk is self-defeating and destructive to the species returning the next day for another feed.

As for the wild bees, honey bees, wild bumblebees, and the butterfly species migrating across summer, mullein provides a safe harbor for clean nectar and seeds for migrating songbirds. The problem with most nursery plants is that they are treated with neonicotinoids or neonics. An unsuspecting gardener becomes part of the problem.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Neonics are a class of neuro-toxic insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. Neonics were used freely for the past 20 years. (Spokane Washington Ordinance C35106) Neonics include Roundup, Safari, and various other patented products. Research has found that one seed contaminated with a neonic pesticide can kill a bird. (Spokane City Council hearing exhibit)

Neonics are pesticides that are neuro-toxins. Neonics stay in the soil for many years depending on the concentration and are absorbed into the cells of plants that are treated with the pesticide and grow in it. When a contaminated flower is visited by a pollenator, let’s say a bee, just coming into physical contact with the stem, flower petals, let alone the contaminated nectar, effects the bees nervous system and it throws off their navigation system. They have trouble remembering where the hive was, since this information is neuro chemical. They may never return to the hive altogether, starving in isolation. When enough worker bees disappear the hive may die from starvation.

If they do return to the hive, they bring the contamination to the hive and it is cumulative. Neonics also cause bees to not groom themselves so they become susceptible to mites and infections. Neonics also kill birds and small mammals who ingest poisoned insects. Birds, fish, frogs, salamanders, otters, et al. are affected and this contamination increases in concentration through the food chain.

Few flowers and vegetable plants from commercial nursery stock are labeled as treated with neonics or herbicides. The lovely looking flower garden initially purchased at most commercial outlets is likely to be a bee/pollenator killing zone! Unless the plants are raised organically, in organic soil, pollenators and the birds and small mammals that eat them are at risk. The well meaning but unaware gardener is now part of the problem.

The problem with soils labeled ‘natural’ is that they may be contaminated with Milestone or other herbicides which will also negatively effect pollenators. The UK has banned the sale of Milestone for several years, after gardeners found ‘natural’ compost contaminated with Milestone. An investigation concluded that compost derived from chemically treated vegetation was being sold as ‘natural.’ Garden crops failed massively in the UK as it stopped plants from flowering; vegetables and fruits are the result of a pollenated flower ovary.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

All this is a bit overwhelming, but find some consolation in the growing proactive efforts of many countries and municipalities. Many countries and communities have banned the use of pollenator-killing chemicals on civic property: Ontario, CA; the European Union (England, Scotland, Ireland – restricted 2013-2015 with renewal of ban this year); Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and countries in South America. Seven US Cities have adopted Pesticide Free City Programs: Eugene, OR (2014); Portland, OR (2015); Spokane, WA (2014); Seattle, WA; Vancouver WA; Cannon Beach, OR; and Shorewood, MN. This Spring, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, while still allowing roadside and water contamination have banned application by any means of neonics on species of Linden trees after several massive bee die-offs in recent years.

A small step to help is to simply allow mullein to proliferate on your property: new, old, or rental. Welcoming mullein and allowing it to thrive on your property will provide some support for pollenators and ultimately bird, and small mammal species. Everything is connected, as Population Ecology teaches us. Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

References

Moore, Michael. “Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West”. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1979 pgs: 112-113

motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/herbicide-in-compost-kills-crops-zmaz08onzgoe

Spokane Washington Ordinance C35106: article

earthjustice.org

xerces.org

nrdc.org

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

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The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

I am certainly not the most able of dairymen, nor the most skilled among vegetable growers, and by no means am I to be counted amongst the ranks of the master teamsters of draft horses. If there is anything remarkable about my story it is that someone could know so little about farming as I did when I started out and still manage to make a good life of it.

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Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Cultivating Questions A Diversity of Cropping Systems

Cultivating Questions: A Diversity of Cropping Systems

As a matter of convenience, we plant all of our field vegetables in widely spaced single rows so we can cultivate the crops with one setup on the riding cultivator. Row cropping makes sense for us because we are more limited by labor than land and we don’t use irrigation for the field vegetables. As for the economics of planting produce in work horse friendly single rows, revenue is comparable to many multiple row tractor systems.

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

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“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

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The agricultural system of the Old Believers has long been one of hand labor. Their homesteads (hozyastvas) were not intended for tractors or horses, with the possible exception of their larger potato fields. Traditionally the small peasant hozyastva has its roots in hand labor, and this has helped maintain the health of the land. Understanding the natural systems is easier when one’s hands are in the soil every day as opposed to seeing the land from the seat of a tractor.

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

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I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

LittleField Notes Fall 2011

LittleField Notes: Fall 2011

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There is a certain set of skills and knowledge that tend to fall through the cracks of your average farm how-to book. Books of a more specialized nature are also abundant but often seem to take a fairly simple subject and make it seem daunting in scope and detail. What follows are a few tidbits of knowledge that I have found useful over the years – the little things that will inevitably need to be learned at some point in the farmer education process.

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Forestry

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After 70 plus years of industrial logging, the world’s forests are as degraded and diminished as its farmlands, or by some estimates even more so. And this is a big problem for all of us, because the forests of the world do much more than supply lumber, Brazil nuts, and maple syrup. Farmlands produce food, a basic need to be sure, but forests are responsible for protecting and purifying the air, water and soil which are even more basic.

Cane Grinding

Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

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Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

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Before starting to plow a field much time can be saved if the field is first staked out in uniform width lands. Methods that leave dead furrows running down the slope should be avoided, as water may collect in them and cause serious erosion. The method of starting at the sides and plowing around and around to finish in the center of the field will, if practiced year after year, create low areas at the dead furrows.

Portrait of a Garden

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As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.

Week in the Life of D Acres

Week in the Life of D Acres

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D Acres of New Hampshire in Dorchester, a permaculture farm, sustainability center, and non-profit educational organization, is a bit of a challenge to describe. Join us for this week-in-the-life tour, a little of everything that really did unfold in this manner. Extraordinary, perhaps, only in that these few November days were entirely ordinary.

Farm To School Programs Take Root

All aim to re-connect school kids with healthy local food.

The Way To The Farm

Lise Hubbe stops mid-furrow at plowing demonstration for Evergreen State College students. She explains that the plow was going too deep…

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Cultivating Questions: Going Single

Going single did not occur to us until we began receiving questions from prospective teamsters who felt it would be more manageable and economical to get started with a single horse than a team. After 29 years of market gardening with two or more horses, our impetus to try out one-horse farming was not a question of management or economy, but due to the radically diverging horse temperaments on our farm.

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

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After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.

Littlefield Notes Fall 2012

Littlefield Notes: Fall 2012

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Why horses? We are knee deep in threshing oats and rye when I find after lunch that the tractor won’t start. Press the ignition switch — nothing; not even a click. I cancel the day’s threshing and drive thirty miles to the tractor store and pick up a genuine-after-market IH part. Come home, put in the new ignition switch and still nothing. When we need the horses they start right up, without complaint — every time.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT