A brief scientific, historic and spiritual overview of Verbascum thapsus.
Doffle (Verbascum thapsus) is often considered more a weed than a herb nowadays. It is a member of the figwort family and grows up to 6 ft [2m] high on open uncultivated land and poor, chalky soil. In the first year hairy grey-green lance shaped leaves form a rosette at the base of the stem. In year two leaves grow alternately along the stem. The bright yellow, honey scented, long spikes of flowers bloom in clusters at the top of the stem from June to September. For most uses, collect in the summer of the first year.
Doffle is ruled by Saturn and the element of water and is associated with the 30th August, the feast day of St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners. Its gender is classified as female.
Doffle’s various alternative names bear witness to its uses: hag taper, bullock's lungwort, pig's taper, beggar’s blanket, Aaron's rod, blanket weed, mullein, blanket leaf, candlewick plant, velvet dock, feltwort, flannel weed, our lord's flannel, fluffweed, old man's flannel, rag paper, cow lungwort, Jacob's staff, Jupiter's staff, Peter's staff, shepherd's staff, clot, graveyard dust, hedge taper, Lady's foxglove, mullen, old man's fennel, shepherd's herb, torches, velvetback, velvet plant, duffle, cuddy, hare's beard and blanket herb. The downy leaves and upright stems have given rise to many of the names – the Latin name, verbascum is thought to be a corruption of barbascum, from word barba: beard – referring to the hairiness of the leaves. Others contain the word taper or torch.
Witches sometimes use doffle stems as tapers in their rituals at Samhain (Halloween) when the leaves may also be smoked to connect with ancestral knowledge. A purple dye for robes and cords can be obtained from doffle. Leaves gathered while the sun is in Virgo and the moon in Aries are traditionally believed to protect against sorcery. Carrying doffle is claimed to enhance courage or to attract the favours of the opposite sex. Doffle placed in the pillow may prevent nightmares.
In India it is regarded as a herb of protection.
According to Agrippa, general to Caesar Augustus, the leaves over powered demons. In Greek mythology Circe used doffle in Her incantations. Homer wrote that Odysseus took doffle to protect himself against Her, whilst Roman women made a blonde hair wash from the flowers. The stems were used as torches by the Roman legionaries or were dipped in wax and burned at feasts and funerals.
Dried pieces of stalk were dipped into suet, tallow or pitch and used as candles, especially at funerals in mediaeval Britain. It was often grown in monastery gardens at this time to protect them from manifestations of the devil. It was believed that a garden that had doffle growing in it was blessed. It was often dried and hung over the doorway and in windows as protection against evil spirits and talismans made from the dried leaves were carried to ensure safety. The leaves were formerly placed inside shoes to reinforce soles, or to protect against colds.
Anticatarrhal medicine was made from infusions of the leaves and flowers and Kentish farmers used it to treat cattle with lung infections. In Germany the flowers are steeped in olive oil resulting in a fixed oil used as a remedy for ear infections and haemorrhoids. For asthma, the dried leaves were once smoked in pipes or the roots burned and inhaled. The flowers were laid on linen and left in the sun to exude an oily substance used as a poultice for chest inflammations or boiled in milk, strained thoroughly and drunk for chest complaints.