Materia Medica - Mullein

Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita, Università di Trieste – Progetto Dryades – Picture by Andrea Moro – Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 License

Botanical name: Verbascum thapsus

Common name: Mullein

Family: Scrophulariaceae

Parts used: Flowers, roots, leaves

Native Region: Originally from Europe and Asia, mullein species have spread all over North America. They love disturbed soil and full sun. They can grow in rich garden soil as well as gravelly roadsides.[1]

Botanical Description: In the first season of the plant’s growth, there appears only a rosette of large leaves, 6 to 15 inches long, thick, whitish with a soft, dense mass of hairs on both sides, which make them very thick to the touch. In the following spring, a solitary, stout, pale stem, with tough, strong fibers enclosing a thin rod of white pith, arises from the midst of the felted leaves. The leaves near the base of the stem are large and numerous, 6 to 8 inches long and 2 to 2 1/2 inches broad, but become smaller as they ascend the stem, on which they are arranged not opposite to one another, but on alternate sides. They are broad and simple in form, the outline rather waved, stalkless, their bases being continued some distance down the stem, as in the Comfrey and a few other plants, the midrib from a quarter to half-way up the blade being actually joined to the stem. The stellately-branched hairs which cover the leaves so thickly act as a protective coat, checking plant’s moisture loss, and also are a defensive weapon of the plant, for not only do they prevent the attacks of creeping insects, but they set up an intense irritation in the mucous membrane of any grazing animals that may attempt to browse upon them, so that the plants are usually left severely alone by them. The hairs are not confined to the leaves alone, but are also on every part of the stem, on the calyces and on the outside of the corollas, so that the whole plant appears whitish or grey. Towards the top of the stalk, which grows frequently 4 or even 5 feet high, and in gardens has been known to attain a height of 7 or 8 feet, the much-diminished woolly leaves merge into the thick, densely crowded flower-spike, usually a foot long, the flowers opening here and there on the spike. The flowers are stalkless, the sulphur-yellow corolla, a somewhat irregular cup, nearly an inch across, formed of five rounded petals, united at the base to form a very short tube, being enclosed in a woolly calyx, deeply cut into five lobes. The five stamens stand on the corolla; three of them are shorter than the other two and have a large number of tiny white hairs on their filaments. These hairs are full of sap, and it has been suggested that they form additional bait to the insect visitors, supplementing the allurement of the nectar that lies round the base of the ovary. The three short hairy stamens have only short, one-celled anthers – the two longer, smooth ones have larger anthers. The pollen sacs have an orange-red inner surface, disclosed as the anthers open. The rounded ovary is hairy and also the lower part of the style. The stigma is mature before the anthers and the style projects at the moment the flower opens, so that any insect approaching it from another blossom where it has got brushed by pollen, must needs strike it on alighting and thus insure cross fertilization, though, failing this, the flower is also able to fertilize itself. The ripened seed capsule is very hard and contains many seeds, which eventually escape through two valves and are scattered round the parent plant.[2]

Growing: If you choose to plant with seeds, scatter them in early spring or in late summer or fall.If fall sowing, cover seeds with a thin layer of soil, and a layer of mulch. They take about two weeks to germinate. In the wild, the flower stalk produces millions of tiny seeds that will persist in the soil for hundreds of years. If you watch around a mature stalk, come spring, many seedlings will begin to pop out of the ground. Take care to thin your growing space so each plant will have 3 feet between plants. It grows in a variety of soil types. Soil should be dry and slightly alkaline for optimum growth. It has low watering requirements, but more is beneficial once flowering starts, just don’t keep it constantly wet.[5] Since this plant is a pioneer plant, sprouting in disturbed soil is one way mother nature has to refurbish the ground. In fact, mullein is a hyper accumulator of heavy metals. Researchers in Serbia found mullein to be their plant of choice for heavy metal contamination remediation.[4] Mullein is generally regarded as safe; however, it always is important to harvest plants from healthy soils and to resist picking the roadside plants. [1] Mullein is frost resistant but appreciates mulching.[5] Plants can grow to 5-8 feet tall. By late summer, the flower stalk will be covered with copious quantities of small bright yellow flowers. Mullein is a biennial plant, taking two years to complete its life cycle. In the first year, a large basal rosette of silvery green and hairy leaves appears. By late Sumer, the leaves are erect and stand up to a foot in length. In the second year, it sends up a long flower stalk. The bottom of the stalk will have leaves growing alternately, getting smaller with height. The stalk then transitions to yellow flowers.[1]

Harvesting: The flowers are harvested between June and October, early in the morning and dried in shade. Flowers can be collected without any equipment, just wear gloves. Leaves can be collected just prior to blooming, during the second year, or once the plant is well-established in late summer of the first year. Select a few from the basal rosette. Leaves collected earlier in the day are richer in essential oils, if collected in the afternoon they contain more glycosides.[5] Harvest the roots during the fall of the first year plant or the spring of the second year plant. It is not ideal to harvest the roots after the plant has gone to flower or seed.[1]

Mullein Leaves

Dry the leaves for use in teas, nourishing infusions, or as a smoking or vaporizing herb. Strain teas through a coffee filter to avoid ingesting irritating hairs.

Leaves can be applied topically as a poultice. Whole/flat leaves can be frozen to preserve them as future poultice material.

Fresh or dried leaves can be used in an alcohol extract. 

  • Fresh Leaf Tincture: 1:2, 50-60% alcohol. 
  • Dry Leaf Tincture: 1:5, 50-60% alcohol

Suggested dosage for leaves:

  • Tea: 10-30 grams per day (more if desired)
  • Tincture: 90-120 drops, 3 times a day

Note: The dense wooly hairs on the mullein leaves can be a bit irritating. When grabbing lots of mullein leaves, you may want to wear gloves. When drinking an infusion of the leaves or flowers, strain it through a coffee filter or several layers of cheese cloth to remove any hairs from the tea.

Mullein Roots

Chop and dry for use in decoctions.

Chop, dry, and powder for use in capsules. 

Fresh or dried root can be used in an alcohol extract. 

  • Fresh Root Tincture: 1:2, 90% alcohol
  • Dried Root Tincture: 1:5, 50-60% alcohol

Suggested dosage for roots:

  • Decoction or powder: 15 grams (Michael Moore lists 2-4 ounces for decoction)
  • Tincture: 30-60 drops, 1-3 times a day

Mullein Flowers

Dry the flowers for use in teas. 

Infuse fresh or freshly dried flowers in a carrier oil for earache remedies (olive oil is nice). 

Fresh or dried flowers can be used in an alcohol extract. 

  • Fresh tincture: 1:2, 90% alcohol
  • Dried tincture: 1:5, 60% alcohol

(Note: Because the flowers are so light in weight, it will take a huge quantity to make a few ounces of tincture or oil.)

Suggested dosage for flowers:

  • Tea: 5-10 flowers per cup, 3 cups daily
  • Tincture: 30-90 drops, 3 times a day

The above dosage suggestions and tincture ratios were compiled from Michael Moore (Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West) and Christa Sinadinos.

Note: Mullein oil should not be used in ear canals if the eardrum has been perforated.

Plant Properties: pectoral, demulcent, relaxant, lymphatic, modulates inflammation, possibly antiviral. [1]

Plant Uses: relaxes lungs, soothes sore lungs, calms asthma, alleviates dry coughs, strengthens bladder muscles, addresses back pain, relieves earaches, tightens tissues of hemorrhoids.[1]

Plant Preparations: tea (flowers), nourishing herbal infusion (leaves), decoction (roots), tincture (all parts), fomentation (leaves), infused oil (flowers), smoke (leaves)[1]

Medicinal Uses and Benefits: The Greeks, Romans, British and Native Americans have all used Mullein to treat a number of respiratory conditions, from a mild cough to bronchitis and asthma. The dried stalks of Mullein have also been used as torches. The flowers can be used to create bright yellow or green dyes, which were used by the ancient Romans to color hair, according to “Healing Teas” by Marie Nadine Antol. Greek mythology holds that Ulysses carried Mullein to protect himself from the evil Circe. For these purposes the leaves can be smoked or used to prepare tea.[6]

Mullein is wonderful for coughs and lung inflammation from all kinds of irritants and pathologies, whether it is particulate matter in the air or symptoms from asthma or an upper respiratory infection. Once you experience mullein’s ability to soothe the respiratory system, you’ll be amazed at the power of this ubiquitous plant. Yet it is a gentle herb that is safe for children and the elderly. As long as the symptom pattern of dry, irritated and inflamed lungs fits, consider mullein for any type of cough, as a tea, tincture, or even inhaled as smoke or vapor.

Mullein leaf is commonly used by herbalists to aid those who want to quit smoking. It is often recommended to take the tea or tincture internally to support the health of the lungs, while concurrently using it as a smoking herb to assist with the desire to smoke something. 

And while it sounds a bit counterintuitive, inhaling mullein smoke is a way to directly get mullein’s relaxant qualities to the lungs, to relax constrictions and aid in stopping a cough. Like anything, this method can be overdone, but when you get it just right it can have dramatic and quick results.[1] 

Mullein leaf is nutrient dense. When prepared as a nourishing herbal infusion, you can drink it frequently, not only to support lung health, but also to benefit from its high levels of calcium and magnesium. [7]

Mullein’s roots dig deep into the earth, bringing minerals and metals into its leaves. While this can result in nutritive leaves, mullein also has the ability to uptake heavy metals, which could pose a health hazard for humans if the soil is contaminated but also have positive benefits for the soil.[1]

There are many historic references to using mullein leaf externally on painful and rheumatic joints. More recently, mullein root has become popularized for back pain. Take 7 drops of tincture and stretch out a bit.[8]

In addition to back pain, mullein root is also used to address a variety of urinary incontinence issues, including stress incontinence, pregnancy incontinence, menopausal incontinence, and childhood incontinence. It can also be used to assist those with interstitial cystitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, enlarged prostate).[9]

Mullein’s biggest claim to fame is as an earache remedy. Mullein flower infused oil is commonly found in health food stores and apothecaries. This historic use is backed up by the experiences of countless present-day parents and children. While it is sometimes used as a simple, it is often combined with garlic and/or St. John’s Wort in the infused oil. Mullein flower infused oil acts as an anodyne to take away the pain of the earache, while also exerting lymphatic action on the area around the ear to help resolve the infection. A small bottle of the oil can be warmed in a warm water bath until the drops are about body temperature; then a few soothing drops can be placed in one or both ears and guarded with cotton balls. [1]

Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational use only and not as medical advice.



 4.    Čudić, Vladica, Dragoslava Stojiljković, and Aleksandar Jovović. “Phytoremediation   Potential of Wild Plants Growing on Soil Contaminated with Heavy Metals.” Arhiv za higijenu rada i toksikologiju 67, no. 3 (2016): doi:10.1515/aiht-2016-67-2829.



 7.    Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003.

    8.  mcdonald, jim. “Mullein.” Herbcraft. Accessed September 26, 2017.

 9.   Sinadinos, Christa. “Medicinal Uses of Mullein Root.” Medical Herbalism: A Journal for the Clinical Practitioner 16, no. 2. Accessed September 26, 2017.

                  Billie Nicholson, Editor,
Jan/Feb 2019

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