Quaker’s Rouge and toilet paper

Tony Nye - OSU Extension

The Common Mullein has quite an “interesting” history.

Vaughn Hammond, University of Nebraska

Trying to find the lighter side to all this craziness, I think I have found something.

How many of you found that the grocery stores and the lack of items is on the verge of ridiculousness? When we all learned we may be stuck at home for a while, I am not sure we believed we would experience all the different items at a grocery store to be wiped out in a matter of hours let alone days.

The world of toilet paper has become one subject that has become quite entertaining, and I am still amazed it is the one item in a store that is sought after like a very expensive old coin.

One of my colleagues, Dave Marrison, Extension Educator for Coshocton County, recently wrote about his store experiences with/without toilet paper and about the day the “light bulb” went off when he came across a weed while on a walk with his wife.

Yes, I said a weed. You might ask, “What in the world does that have to do with toilet paper?”

The weed Dave spoke about was Common Mullein or Verbascum Thapsus, known as Cowboy’s Toilet Paper.

Marrison goes on to say that Besides Cowboy’s Toilet Paper, you may have heard it referred to as Quaker’s Rouge, candle wick, flannel leaf, velvet dock, big taper, bunny’s ear, miner’s candle, or poor man’s blanket. These names commonly reflect some characteristic the plant exhibits, such as the flower stalk or leaf texture.

If you read survival guides, this plant is mentioned as an emergency roadside toilet paper due to the large, fuzzy leaf of this botanical wonder. One word of caution however, the fuzzy leaf may cause some skin irritation when used as toilet paper.

The history of this plant is fascinating according to Marrison. Common mullein traces its roots back to Europe as it was planted in gardens for its medicinal purposes as an expectorant, diuretic, pain relief and healing of abrasions.

Interesting enough, since Quaker women weren’t allowed to wear make-up, they would rub the hairy leaves on their cheeks to create a homemade blush look. Hence the name Quaker’s Rouge.

However, its major claim to fame is definitely its use as a toilet paper.

He goes on in his write-up that like many plants, it escaped the confines of cultivation and is now a weed which can be found across the United States.

In Ohio, we tend to see it in disturbed areas such as railroad right-of-ways, roadsides, fence rows, ditches, and pastures. It can be found on the Nye farm along the pasture fence and our long driveway. In fact, it is one of the first weeds to germinate when an area is disturbed.

It prefers sunny, hot, dry conditions. It grows quicker than native plants so it can quickly take over a newly disturbed area. Common mullein is a minor problem in cropping systems because it is unable to survive cultivation and is intolerant of shade.

However, it can persist and remain problematic in overgrazed pastures due to it generally being avoided by livestock.

Some other quick facts he shares about Common Mullein is it is a spring-germinating biennial. In the first year, it produces a large basal rosette (7 to 24 inches) of large, furry leaves with a substantial crown.

The leaves are covered by dense hairs, making it similar to felt fabric. Those hairs make it very undesirable to livestock and wildlife that might feed on the foliage of the plant.

The rosette overwinters, and in the second year, it produces a single, thick, erect flowering stem with yellow flowers reaching upwards to 5 feet in height. The flowers are present from June through September.

The flowers are sessile on 1 or 2 terminal cylindrical spikes (7-19 inches in length by 1 3/16 inches wide). Individual flowers are just under 1 inch in diameter and have fused yellow petals with 5 lobes. A single plant can produce up to 175,000 seeds and those seeds can remain viable up to 100 years.

The seeds have wavy ridges alternating with deep grooves that resemble corn cobs. The seeds are typically 1/32 inch in length. After flowering, the plant dies leaving the tall stem and the dead stems can persist for more than a year.

Finally this week, have you and the whole family started to feel like you are about to go stir crazy staying at home? I am very lucky to have the farm and the livestock to help keep my sanity.

If you are looking for something to fill a void, to sharpen your farm skills, or give the kids a project to report on, I suggest “Agriculture and Natural Resources Madness: A Tournament of Education”.

Virtual project

This is a virtual education program created by Ohio State University Extension that will include 64 or more educational events that will be presented by subject matter or in our world will be broken down and presented into daily brackets.

The sessions have already started but if you missed something that may have interested you, you can go back and listen as each presentation will be recorded and be available even after the event.

Each day, a virtual educational session will be held at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. The educational tournament is free of charge and will likely continue until mid-May at least. More sessions may become available as time goes.

To find complete details on the tournament’s educational opportunities and other event and webinar links, visit go.osu.edu/agmadness.

Tony Nye is the state coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for over 30 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.


The Common Mullein has quite an “interesting” history.
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2020/04/web1_Common-Mullein-1.jpgThe Common Mullein has quite an “interesting” history. Vaughn Hammond, University of Nebraska

Tony Nye

OSU Extension