Mullein has specific uses for its leaves, flowers and roots.
This Plant Profile includes all three plant parts and some of the many uses for Mullein.
Verbascum thapsus (Scrophulariaceae)
Mullein loves disturbed soil and is one of the first plants to move into a burned area. It is often found by the dozens-hundreds-thousands in the forests around Flagstaff, depending on the extent of the recent fire. While it is not native, I don’t consider it to be ‘invasive’ (in the sense of taking over and dominating and damaging an environment long term) because its growth in any one area is self-limiting. It is very abundant for a few years after a fire then gradually diminishes as the area heals. Its deep tap root also helps prevent erosion on recently burned slopes.
Energy & Tastes:
Mildly cooling, moistening, relaxing – especially to the lungs
Its energy is considered mild enough that it is not directly contraindicated for any condition or dosha
Preferred Method of Preparation:
A biennial, the leaves are ideally harvested in the spring or early summer of the second year, before the stalk growth and flowering begin to dominate.
Infusions of the dried leaf are the traditional way.
Using mullein tincture is also effective and convenient for adding it to cough syrups. The leaves are light and fluffy enough they need to be tinctured using the Double Maceration technique.
Some folks report good results from inhaling the smoke. I have no personal or clinical experience with this.
Relaxant Expectorant – one of the primary lung herbs, used in many cough formulas. It is especially useful for tight, dry, spasmodic coughing.
Demulcent – moistening, soothing, cooling – primarily in the respiratory system
Reduces inflammation in the respiratory system.
Use with Licorice Root for dry, spasmodic coughs that produce little to no phlegm. Think “tickly cough”.
A mallow infusion provides a similar demulcent effect and can be used in place of, or in addition to, licorice.
Combining Mullein Leaf with Wild Cherry Bark helps to soothe and relax a tight spasmodic cough that is unproductive.
Safety Issues & Contraindications:
The leaf hairs are skin or throat irritants to some folks. The infusion or tincture can be strained through a coffee filter to remove these.
Garlic-Mullein Earache Oil
The classic herbal remedy for ear infections is garlic-mullein oil. Garlic is a natural antimicrobial, addressing infections of both a bacterial and viral nature. Mullein is an analgesic, relieving the pain associated with earaches. It’s very easy to make at home or can be purchased. (HerbPharm is a good brand)
To prepare garlic mullein oil, place one whole bulb of finely chopped fresh garlic and 1 oz. of mullein flowers in a pint-sized jar. Add olive oil until the jar is full. Stir with a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon to release air bubbles. Cover the jar and place in the sunlight for 3 weeks (2 weeks in warm weather). Strain into a clean jar (discard plant material) and store in the refrigerator. This will keep for up to two years.
To use place 3-7 drops of the oil into the affected ear while the child lays on his side with the affected ear upward. The oil should be at room temperature or slightly warm. To warm it, put the drops in a spoon or a glass eyedropper and briefly hold a lit match close to it. Test the oil against the underside of your wrist to make sure it is not too hot. Have the child rest with the affected ear up for 5-10 minutes, keeping a warm hot water bottle on the ear. After this time let the child roll over and rest on the hot water bottle for as long as this brings comfort. Repeat on the other ear if necessary. This treatment can be repeated 2-3 times a day but may only be necessary once or twice as it is very effective.
NOTE: NEVER PUT ANYTHING INTO THE EAR IF YOU SUSPECT THE EARDRUM HAS RUPTURED OR IF THERE IS ANY DRAINAGE FROM THE EAR.
Mullein is a biennial plant and the root makes the best medicine early in the second season. The idea is to harvest the root when the stored energy is still present, before it is used for flowers.
Energy & Tastes:
Warming, astringent, slightly bitter
Preferred Method of Preparation:
I have worked with it as a fresh root tincture in Everclear. It can also be tinctured dry and used as a tea.
Incontinence of many types
BPH – benign prostatic hypertrophy
Christa Sinadinos has an outstanding article on ways to prepare and use mullein root. Her focus is on Bladder – Urinary – Prostate Health.
Her article is long enough and detailed enough it is best to download the .pdf to use as a reference. The link is here.
How to Use Mullein Root for Back-Spine Health from Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald…
I also use Mullein root quite frequently to facilitate “proper alignment”. It may be that there are broken bones I need to be sure line up, or it could be a spinal misalignment. These are applications I picked up from Matthew Wood, though he uses Mullein leaves, saying, “It has a moistening, lubricating effect on the synovial membranes… so that it is hydrating to the spine and joints. It is often indicated in back injuries. People think they are untreatable and incurable, but an increase the synovial fluids will make the spine more pliable and comfortable. The vertebra will slip back into place more readily, pain and inflammation will decrease and the condition will get better.”
I can personally attest to Mullein’s usefulness in treating spinal injuries, as I’ve used it for years. The first time I ever used it, I woke up with my back out. I couldn’t stand up straight, and while my mouth was saying, “Ow, ow, ow…” within me I kept hearing “Mullein root, Mullein root, Mullein root…”. I drove out to a field where I knew it grew, and searched for it under the snow (Mullein’s fuzzy leaves insulate it and it usually overwinters). I found some, and as I was digging it up I “heard” Mullein root stores up energy the entire first year of its life to put forth its strong, straight yet flexible flower stalk; and using it gives us access to that stored energy. I chopped up a root, made tea, took a sip then a breath and was completely better.
A year or so after that (in which time I’d used the root a few more times, always to more or less immediate results), I suffered the rather dreadful “slipped disc” while, when changing a tire on the side of a dirt road my jack slipped and I jumped back away from the falling car with a heavy tire in my arms. Along with chiropractic, I used the rather agonizing experience to figure out how best to treat this condition. I ended up blending together a formula with Solomon’s Seal, Mullein Root, Horsetail and Goldenseal to excellent results (I daresay…). This was created not so much as a pain reliever, but to restore strength and integrity to the disc itself. To address the attendant muscle spasms (which were the worst part, in terms of outright agony), I used a combination of Black Cohosh and Arnica tinctures, taken in frequent small doses to help ease the sensitivity & reactivity of the muscles. The results were excellent. I could literally feel the disc growing stronger and the muscles relearning how to be relaxed. Even now, after a few years, if I overdo it and feel even a twinge of sensitivity in the disc, a few doses usually completely removes the discomfort. It’s truly kick ass stuff.
Mullein root on its own, though, is also markedly effective. Prepared either as an infusion or taken in small doses as a tincture, it’s been a lifesaver for me when working a bit too gung-ho has me wake up the next morning with my back “kinked” and not quite able to straighten up. I usually take about 7 drops of tincture, stretch out a bit, and the kink disappears and I feel perfectly aligned. While the occasions when this has worked are too numerous to recount, it doesn’t always work… just most of the time. On the most recent occasion, the Mullein tincture didn’t work immediately, but took about a week, (used concurrently with an antispasmodic blend of Black Cohosh and Arnica, a bit of Saint John’s Wort, and a visit to my chiropractor). Among these, I know the Mullein was especially important because when I broke my bottle while away for the weekend, the stiffness and misalignment went from almost better to lousy. When I resumed, virtually all the redoubled sensitivity dissipated and I felt more or less better in a couple days.
Others have found it useful as well. On a recent visit to Michigan, Matthew Wood and I were talking about this little known use of Mullein, and comparing and contrasting his use of the leaves with my use of the root. One of the participants, who, though completely new to herbalism and a bit overwhelmed by the onslaught of information, went the following week to get some Mullein (leaves; the root is quite hard to find, commercially) and sent me an email another week later, saying, “I’ve suffered with a herniated disc (the one between the lumbar vertebrae and sacrum) since my son was 15 months old. I ended up being on bed rest on a cortisone “blast” for a week at that time. The disc is really thin and the area has been fragile since then. So, My back got really whacked out a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t want to go the Motrin route. I purchased some Mullein tincture at my local health food haunt and by the time I was half way to Commerce (from Ferndale) to pick my son up my back was feeling so much better… The Mullein has been a life saver.”
While I haven’t yet used the leaves in lieu of the root, I had a remarkably lucid dream about how the leaves could be picked proportionally along the flowering stalk to the area along the spine that is kinked. So, I’ll shortly be gathering mullein leaves and sorting them into “lower third”, “middle third”, “upper third” to see where that exploration leads. I could tell more stories. The point is, though, that this is an area in which Mullein excels, but is far too seldom used. Hopefully these elaborations will begin to change that.
Perhaps, as opposed to a physical complaint, the need for alignment is energetic… someone is scattered all over the place, and needs to focus and direct their energies. Mullein root will assist us in such a need. Try carrying some in a medicine bag, taking a few drops of tincture or rubbing a bit into your wrists or temples. Mullein is one of the plants that’s ideal to use in such a way, as it’s spirit has reached out and touched so many people I’ve met, and among those many who really weren’t all on board with the idea of plants having a spirit and consciousness of their own. For my part, I think I’ve had several epiphanies using Mullein each year since I began using it.
The Plant Profiles are brief materia medica summaries of plants encountered during plant walks or introduced during class on our longer programs. They are presented here to help students organize plant info throughout the course. Although the Profiles are not meant to be comprehensive, they are offered here to the public in the hope that others find these pages useful.