|Lyte (The Niewe Herball, 1578) tells us ‘that the whole toppe, with its pleasant yellow floures sheweth like to a wax candle or taper cunningly wrought.’|
Our family has a lot of personal experience with mullein. It is one of our Great Eight here in South Bohemia. I love harvesting its first year leaves, using them in teas for respiratory illness, crushing them up into soothing poultices for wounds and relying on them to calm my cough, ease the pain and make it productive. Gathering its delicate flowers takes days. Once the stalk is flowering, one must gather daily to capture the flowers at the perfect state, which is as a partially closed bud. Beware, though, as these flowers are small hotel rooms for a myriad of insects and I have surprised many in my gathering. The flowers are set up in oil and are pretty darn near flawless in their assistance with earaches and ear infections. My husband had a painful ear infection a couple of weeks back, the kind with a shooting pain that would render him near speechless; he applied the oil to his ear canal two times a day for 20 minutes or so and felt dramatic improvement in a couple of days.
There is something really special about standing in front of a mullein spike mid-summer, gently coaxing insects out of the flowers cum hidey-holes, popping the popcorn like buds from their sockets, knowing that tomorrow you will be back for more.
Mullein is a beautiful biennial. The first year the plant grows a rosette of leaves that are 6 to 8 inches long and covered with fuzzy hairs which make them feel thick and soft to the touch. The second year of growth it sends up a stalk that is 4 to 5 feet tall. The leaves grow alternately up the stalk and get smaller as they near the top. A spike of flowers grows on the top. The sulphur-yellow flowers, nearly an inch across, are formed of four or five petals that unite at the base to form a short tube.
According to herbalist Richard Whelan:
“Mullein was described as a treatment for ‘old coughs’ by the Greek physician Dioscorides over 2000 years ago and has chiefly been used as a herb for lung problems since well before then till now.
Ancient cultures around the world considered Mullein a magical protector against witchcraft and evil spirits and like many such herbs used in magic Mullein has a long history as a healing plant. The botanical family name for Mullein; Schrophulariaceae is derived from scrofula, an old term for chronically swollen lymph glands, later identified as a form of tuberculosis.”
Mullein leaves are best harvested in the summer of the second year as the plant is growing its stalk. Bundle and hang the leaves upside down to dry. Harvest the buds and flowers when in bloom (Usually between July and September) and use them fresh or dried. Roots can be gathered before the stalk grows, sliced and dried.
Watch one of my herbal heroes, Susun Weed harvest mullein here.
Mullein contains rotenone, mucilage, gum, saponins, essential oils, flavonoids, glycosides.
Internally, as a tea, infusion, or tincture:
For digestion, mullein soothes the gut, eases peptic ulcers and curbs diarrhea.
Mullein is a heavy hitter with the immune system. As a soothing expectorant, it gently calms and moistens dry, hacking coughs, sore throats as well as more intense inflammatory conditions such as pharyngitis, tracheitis and bronchitis. It is antiseptic and relaxing; quite effective for colds, flu and chest infections. As a decongestant it clears phlegm, sinusitis and hay fever.
Mullein enhances the immune system. With an anti-inflammatory action, it aids in relieving the pain of swollen glands and mumps. It is useful against influenza strains and herpes simplex because of its antibacterial and antiviral actions.
It is often used as a remedy for urinary system complaints. Mullein acts as a soothing diuretic for burning and frequency of cystitis and fluid retention. It increases the elimination of toxins, while being useful for arthritis, rheumatism and gout.
Externally, mullein is used as a healing salve or poultice for wounds, burns, sores, ulcers and piles. A compress of leaves can be used for painful and swollen joints, sore muscles, asthma, headaches, and swollen glands. The topical application of mullein flowers or flower oil speeds healing of ringworm and other skin infections. Mullein flower oil is used as an effective remedy against earaches and ear infections.
According to herbalist jim mcdonald:
“The leaves are the most commonly used part of the plant, and among the first remedies to be thought of in treating congestion and dry coughs, as they are an excellent expectorant. An expectorant aids the lungs in expelling mucous and phlegm by loosening it from the walls of the lungs and allowing it to be coughed up; thus, Mullein will stimulate coughing, even though that’s the symptom being treated. What Mullein is really doing is assisting the body’s natural response to congestion – coughing – to be more effective.”
According to herbalist Kiva Rose:
If there’s one thing Mullein is famous for, it’s as an oil for ear infections. The warm oil is useful where wax is causing a blockage and/or pooling of moisture but in general, I prefer the flower tincture for most infections, as it adds the drying action that helps to speed healing form most bacterial infections. Additionally, I find Mullein flower to be much more effective in the treatment of chronic ear infections when combined with Elderberry tincture. Be aware that if there is any chance of a ruptured ear drum, nothing at all should be placed in the ear and immediate medical attention should be sought. Also, if chronic ear infections persist with herbal treatment, a dairy intolerance should be considered and/or probiotic therapy in the form of fermented foods or supplementation.
Tincture: 1-4 ml (1:5 in 60%) 3x per day.
Tea: 1-2 teaspoons dried leaf per cup boiling water, steeped for 10-15 minutes, taken three times per day.
External applications: poultice, salve, or wash as needed.
Mullein is considered a very safe herb. One should be cautious about interacting too intimately with the fuzzy little hairs on the leaves as they can cause contact dermatitis.