Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Energetics: leaf – cool/neutral, slightly moist, root – neutral, slightly drying, flower – cool/neutral
Therapeutic Actions: anodyne (flower), anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent (root), demulcent (leaf), expectorant, lymphatic, vulnerary
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is perhaps one of the easiest to identify medicinal herbs for a novice wildcrafter to seek out. That said, google “mullein images” and you will likely see as many false identifications as actual, correct id’s. Not all yellow flowers does mullein make. Not all flowers grown on a central stem does mullein make. And that one picture of some kind of dessert dwelling shrub with shiny leaves – also not mullein. And those purple candelabra looking blooms? Yeah, still not mullein. Despite Google Images gallery of the “not-so-mullein”, I promise you that it is not that hard to find and identify. But, more on that in a bit…
Mullein is a wild herb with many medicinal uses. Each part even seems to have its own special therapeutic actions. Among its medicinal attributes, the leaf has a particular affinity for the respiratory system. In particular, mullein is called for in chronic, sub-acute infections like a persistent or recurrent bronchitis, but some sources even call for its use with pneumonia and tuberculosis. This herb is especially useful for instances of a dry, hot and hacking cough with pain about the ribs. Perhaps nodding to its own soft fuzzy hairs, the herb is also indicated to increase the health of weakened cilia (the moving hairs of the lungs and respiratory tract) due to smoking and infection. There is also ample anecdotal evidence to support mullein use when addressing inhaled particulate matter – think drywall dust and wildfire season.
Beyond its respiratory benefits, mullein is also considered an outstanding lymphatic tonic, and is traditionally used to get congested lymph “moving”. Both leaf and root are indicated for musculoskeletal concerns, particularly that of misalignment and broken bones. The root is an herbal option when there is a weakened pelvic floor and urinary incontinence. The characteristic yellow flower is exceptionally useful when infused into oil (sometimes with garlic) to address ear pain and wax build up – this being perhaps the most widely known and used herbal remedies in the general population. I have even used this mullein/garlic ear oils for a family member that was experiencing vertigo (likely due to sinus inflammation related to allergies, pressing against her inner ear) with profound and almost immediate effect.
Although prolific and reported to grow in every state, mullein is not a native North American herb. Instead this herb was carried over from Europe before naturalizing throughout the continent. As a biennial herb, it forms a basal rosette in the first year, followed by its towering yellow flower spike(s) in the second. This hardy, adaptable herb is commonly found growing in lean, well drained soils in a sunny location. My favorite mullein foraging spot is a several acre river rock expanse nestled up to a river channel. Its oval leaves are a striking gray-green and are fuzzy, almost flannel like. During the second year the flowering stalk can grow to almost 10 feet, though I usually find them at around a more modest five feet in height. The flowering stalk is wrapped in whorls of buds that bloom progressively throughout the summer.
Mullein leaves (and root) can be tinctured, dried/ground/encapsulated, or used as a tea or infusion. As previously mentioned, the wilted or dried flower also can be infused in oil for topical use. Some herbalist and traditional medicine makers use the leaves in an herbal smoke blend. This particular method may have benefits as a tobacco replacement for smokers, but I am more inclined to use it in other medicinal forms for those dealing with illness. For the purposes of this post, I decided a tea for respiratory support was in order. For this tea, I chose to unite spearmint and rose hips with the leaves. Spearmint offers its own gentle respiratory action and inflammation relief, while also lending its bright aromatic and cooling, minty flavor. The addition of rose hips is in effort to boost immune system function with its potent vitamin C content. This tea must be adequately strained or perhaps steeped in a reusable muslin tea bag to avoid drinking too many of the fine hairs (which can be irritating). Served warm, and perhaps with a little bit of raw honey, this tea will offer gentle respiratory support.
Mullein Lung Support Tea
Soothing mullein, aromatic spearmint, and immune enhancing rose hips combine to create a lung supporting blend to assisting blend. Great for use in instances of a persistent, dry, unproductive cough, rib area pain, and inhaled particulate matter.
- 1 ounce mullein leaves dried, crushed
- .5 ounce spearmint dried
- .5 ounce rose hips dried
Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container, in a cool, dry and dark place.
To make tea, place a heaping tablespoon in a reusable muslin tea bag and steep in hot water for 5-7 minutes (or 10-15 for a stronger infusion). Alternately used a fine mesh tea sieve to strain herbs (to prevent mullein hairs in resulting tea). Sweeten lightly with honey if desired.
Grow Forage Cook Ferment: http://www.growforagecookferment.com/foraging-for-mullein/
Learning and Yearning: http://learningandyearning.com/mullein-for-earaches-and-coughs/
Jim McDonald, Herbalist: http://www.herbcraft.org/mullein.html
The Medicinal Woman’s Roots: http://bearmedicineherbals.com/a-golden-torch-mullein
Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: modern herbal medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.
Moore, Michael. (2011). Medicinal plants of the Pacific West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press.
Tierra, Michael, Dr. C.A., N.D., O.M.D. (1988). Planetary Herbology, An Integration Of Western Herbs Into The Tradi. Etc. Lotus Press 16 Vols.
Tierra, Michael. (1998). The way of herbs: Michael Tierra. New York: Pocket Books.
Wood, Matthew. (2016). The Earthwise Herbal Repertory: The Definitive Practitioner’s Guide. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.