By Grace Bryce, MH, CNHP
Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is a biennial plant, meaning it takes two years to complete the botanical lifecycle. During the first year, a rosette is formed of soft fuzzy green-silver leaves and the roots are established. The second year, Mullein sends up a tall flower stalk, produces fragrant yellow flowers, which go to seed and then the plant dies. It easily re-seeds itself to start again. It can be weedy and invasive and is not native to our area, central Texas. Mullein likes disturbed soils and can be found along roadsides and on slopes. Roadsides are typically not a good place to harvest herbs, due to the contamination from auto exhaust. Seeds can be sown in the fall, if you wish to grow it. Some people confuse it with Lamb’s Ear. It is NOT the same plant.
Mullein was said to have the powers of courage, protection, health, love divination and exorcism. A few leaves worn in the shoes would protect the wearer from catching a cold. Placed inside of the pillow, it would guard against nightmares. It was also hung over doors or windows and carried in sachets to protect against evil or negativity. In folklore, Ulysses carried Mullein to protect him against the spells of the sorcerer, Circe. The dried stalks were dipped in fat or oil and used as torches. Mullein has even been referred to as “cowboy toilet paper.” Traditional medicinal use of Mullein has been recorded for several centuries, and is still used today.
Herbal Actions: Traditionally, Mullein has been used for many conditions. Most commonly, it is known for respiratory uses and ear infections. Herbal actions are known as: anti-inflammatory, demulcent, expectorant, astringent, anti-spasmodic, vulnerary and anodyne. It is also a weak diuretic and has some lymphatic properties as well.
Traditional Uses: Cough, whooping cough, bronchitis, sore throat, laryngitis, tonsillitis, asthma, influenza, chest congestion, tuberculosis, urinary tract infections, anxiety, insomnia, recurrent ear infections, earaches, wounds, boils, rheumatic pain, joint and back pain, hemorrhoids, and common cold.
David Hoffmann describes Mullein as soothing and tonifying to irritated mucosal membranes, particularly in the respiratory system. As an expectorant, it stimulates fluid production (and coughing), so that congestion can be relieved, while reducing inflammation. It is specific for bronchitis, when there is a hard sore cough. Jim McDonald describes that it is useful, when there is a wheeze involved and can be paired with other herbs to use for asthma and other conditions. A couple of years ago, on a plant walk, he talked about using Mullein for back pain and inflammation and to reduce swellings. Matthew Wood talks about Mullein and describes using the leaves topically to set broken bones, particularly broken ribs. He says the leaves are used when the condition involves the lung and kidneys, but flowers are better for nerves. Michael Moore talks about the antispasmodic uses of the flowers, especially when there is infection and raspiness involved. The root is diuretic and a urinary tract astringent. By toning the bladder, it helps with incontinence and prostate inflammation. There are also many stories of these and other uses recorded historically.
Dosage & Preparation Notes: The leaves and root collected from the first year plant and fresh flowers are the parts of the plant that are used medicinally. The seeds can be somewhat toxic, so generally are not used for medicine.
If you are using the leaves for smoking, it is best to cut away the stems before drying. Leaves can be used as smoke, tea, tincture or poultice.
For tea, steep leaves or 5-10 fresh flowers for 10-15 minutes, consume 2-4 ounces, 3-4 times a day. It is a good idea to strain or filter the tea, because the fine hairs can be irritating. A strong decoction (simmered and reduced) can be made of the (sliced and dried) root or make a tincture from the root.
For tincture, leaves are tinctured 1:5 in 40% alcohol, and the dosage is up to 1 tsp, three times a day. Fresh flowers are tinctured 1:2 in 60% alcohol. (Elixirs or syrups could also be made.)
Leaves can be crushed with aloe to make a poultice and used topically. The root decoction can also be used as a topical fomentation.
Fresh flowers can be infused in oil, 1:1 for several weeks, then strained. Care must be taken to decant the oil to remove any moisture or gunk that has settled out after straining. (Mullein flower oil can also be combined with garlic infused oil.) Vitamin E is typically added to extend shelf life. The oil can be used for earaches, ear infections, ear mites, flaky skin in ears or inflamed skin. It should not be used if the ear drum is perforated.
Tinctures of Mullein leaf and Mullein flowers, and Gentle Ear Oil are available through Gracie’s Garden, LLC and locally available at Georgia’s Naturals. Custom formulas and bulk herbs are also available, please inquire.
There are no known contraindications with the use of Mullein. Some people may have an allergy to the flowers and may be more sensitive topically to the fine hairs on the leaves. This should taken into consideration, especially if someone has a lot of allergies or sensitivities.
The information in this article is for educational use only and does not take the place of appropriate medical care by a licensed physician.
Cunningham, Scott. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. 1985
Fritchey, Philip. Practical Herbalism, Ordinary Plants With Extraordinary Powers. 2004
Green, James. The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook. A Home Manual. 2000
Hoffmann, David. Medicinal Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. 2003
McDonald, Jim. http://www.herbcraft.org/mullein.html
Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. 2003
PDR for Herbal Medicines. 2007
Telkes, Nicole. Medicinal Plants of Texas. 2014
Wood, Matthew. The Book Of Herbal Wisdom, Using Plants As Medicines. 1997
Also, check out Ginger Webb’s Medicinal Minute on Mullein