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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 PDT

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: Livestock

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

by:
from issue:

Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

by:
from issue:

A great deal of interest has been shown the last several years in using multiple hitches in horse farming, especially in spring fieldwork. The question often asked is how to keep it simple and easy in driving and assembling the hitch as far as lines are concerned. We demonstrated our method at the Horse Progress Days at Mt. Hope, Ohio in 2003 and have been asked numerous times how we drove four, six and eight-horse hitches using only two lines.

Horseshoeing Part 4B

Horseshoeing Part 4B

Forging is that defect of the horse’s gait by reason of which, at a trot, he strikes the ends of the branches or the under surface of the front shoe with the toe of the hind shoe or hoof of the same side. Forging is unpleasant to hear and dangerous to the horse. It is liable to wound the heels of the forefeet, damages the toes or the coronet of the hind hoofs, and often pulls off the front shoes.

Work Bridle Styles

Work Bridle Styles

Here are fourteen work bridle styles taken from a 1920’s era harness catalog. Regional variants came with different names and configurations, so much so that we have elected to identify these images by letter instead of name so you may reference these pictures directly when ordering harness or talking about repairs or fit concerns with trainers or harness makers. In one region some were know as pigeon wing and others referred to them as batwing or mule bridles.

Cultivating Questions The Cost of Working Horses

Cultivating Questions: The Cost of Working Horses

Thanks to the many resources available in the new millennium, it is relatively easy for new and transitioning farmers to learn the business of small-scale organic vegetable production. Economic models of horse-powered market gardens, however, are still few and far between. To fill that information hole, I asked three experienced farmers to join me in tracking work horse hours, expenses and labor over a two-year period and to share the results in the Small Farmer’s Journal.

Working Steers and Oxen on the Small Farm

Working Steers and Oxen on the Small Farm

by:
from issue:

For centuries, the skills of training steers for work and the craft of building yokes and related equipment was passed down from generation to generation. It was common for a young boy or girl to be responsible for the care and training of a team from calves to the age of working capability. Many farms trained a team each year, either for sale or for future replacement in their own draft program.

Horseshoeing Part 4A

Horseshoeing Part 4A

According to the size of the horse and his hoofs the nails should be driven from five-eighths to an inch and five-eighths high, and as even as possible. As soon as a nail is driven its point should be immediately bent down towards the shoe in order to prevent injuries. The heads of all the nails should then be gone over with a hammer and driven down solidly into the nail-holes, the hoof being meanwhile supported in the left hand.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

by:
from issue:

Three different parcels of land were committed for a series of tests to directly compare the impact of tractors and horses on the land. One side of each parcel was worked only with horses and the other only with tractors. There were measurable differences between each side of the worked areas; the land’s capacity to hold water and greater aeration were up to 45cm higher in areas worked by horses as opposed to tractors.

Cattle Handling Part 2 Use Good Cow Sense When Handling Cattle

Cattle Handling Part 2: Use Good Cow Sense When Handling Cattle

by:
from issue:

Cattle are very intelligent, and are just as “trainable” as horses. Like horses, they “reason” differently than humans. Understanding the way cattle think and why they react to you the way they do can enable you handle them in ways that will help rather than hinder your purposes. If you can “think like a cow” you can more readily predict what cattle will do in various situations and be able to handle them with fewer problems.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Living With Dairy Goats

Living With Dairy Goats

by:
from issue:

Dairy goats are different than other types of livestock, even Angora goats. They are independent, unimpressed by efforts to thwart their supremacy of the barnyard (or your garden), and like to survey the world from an elevated perch. Though creatures of habit, they will usually pull off some quite unexpected performance the minute you “expect” them to do their usual routine. For the herdsperson who can keep one step ahead of them, they are one of the most enjoyable species of livestock to raise and ideal to small farms.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Collars, Hames and Harness Fitting

Farmers who are good horsemen know everything that is presented here: yet even they will welcome this leaflet because it will refresh their memories and make easier their task when they have to show hired men or boys how to adjust equipment properly. Good horsemen know from long experience that sore necks or sore shoulders on work stock are due to ignorance or carelessness of men in charge, and are inexcusable.

The Milk and Human Kindness Stanchion Floor

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Friends with Your Wild Heifer

by:
from issue:

So let’s just say this is your first experience with cows, you’ve gone to your local dairy farm, purchased a beautiful bred heifer who is very skittish, has never had a rope on her, or been handled or led, and you’re making arrangements to bring her home. It ought to be dawning on you at this point that you need to safely and securely convey this heifer to your farm and then you need to keep her confined until she begins to calm down enough that she knows she’s home, and she knows where she gets fed.

Horseshoeing Part 1C

Horseshoeing Part 1C

The horn capsule or hoof is nothing more than a very thick epidermis that protects the horse’s foot, just as a well fitting shoe protects the human foot. The hoof of a sound foot is so firmly united with the underlying pododerm that only an extraordinary force can separate them. The hoof is divided into three principal parts, which are solidly united in the healthy foot – namely, the wall, the sole, and the frog.

Work Horse Handbook

Grooming Work Horses

The serviceability of the work horse may be increased or decreased according to the care which is bestowed upon him. If he is groomed in a perfunctory fashion his efficiency as an animal motor is lessened. On the other hand, if he is well groomed he is snappier and fresher in appearance and is constantly up on the bit.

Praise for Small Oxen

Praise for Small Oxen

by:
from issue:

Every day in the winter, and a fair number of days in the summer, I choose to work with a team of Dexter oxen, just about the smallest breed of cattle in North America. Harv and Mr. Whistling Sweets are three years old, were named on a half-forgotten whim by my young children, and stand 38” tall at the shoulder. Sometimes, perched on top of a load of hay, moving feed for my herd of thirty cows, I look and feel comical — a drover of Dachshunds.

Ask A Teamster Tongue Length

Ask A Teamster: Tongue Length

My forecart pole is set up for draft horses. My husband thinks we should cut the pole off to permanently make it fit better to these smaller horses. What would be your opinion? Like your husband, my preference would be a shorter tongue for a small team like your Fjords. The dynamics and efficiency of draft are better if we have our horse(s) close to the load. A shorter tongue will also reduce the overall length of your outfit, thereby giving you better maneuverability and turning dynamics.

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