bow drill fire

Day 64: Plant Profile: Tsaliyu'sti

Today we’re talking about tsaliyu'sti or Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). In Cherokee tsaliyu'sti means “like tobacco” because of the shape of the leaves and the way the plant looks when it’s growing. It’s also sometimes called unikwɔtEnɑ “tobacco like, it has down”, tsɔliyusti dɑlɔni “tobacco like, yellow”, and dzuskwanɔni “blanket”.

All parts of the plant can be used as medicine. The flowers and seed heads can be made into an infusion that’s good for coughs and colds. The leaves are often smoked to help clear a congested chest (sometimes smoked along with rabbit tobacco which helps in the same way), they can also be used to help with asthma. The roots of the plant are often used in helping with cramps and heavy bleeding associated with menses.

Mullein is also often called the “candlewick plant” because old timers used to take the dead flower stalks, dip them in several layers of wax, and then burn them as torches. The fluffy, pithy core of the Mullein flower stalks helped the torch to burn longer without a lot of wax. Also, the fuzzy leaves were also sometimes cut long and thin then used as candlewicks. The hard, dried stem of the plant can also be used in bow-drill fire making; the pith of the stem helps to create the live coal. I’ve also heard it called “lamb’s ear”, “velvet plant”, “beggar’s bed” (because the leaves are often used as bedding), and “old man’s flannel”.

Mullein grows everywhere here in the Ozarks. It’s most often seen along highways, although I would suggest gathering the plant from these areas. The plant can also be found in open fields and along creeks, basically anywhere that has thin, rocky soil is a perfect place for her to grow in.