Mullein ~ Verbascum thapsus
Medicinal Plant Part: Leaf, Flower
Demulcent, emollient, astringent, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, pectoralis, expectorant, and relaxant properties, which makes it beautifully helpful in pectoral/respiratory complaints and bleeding of the lungs and bowels. The whole plant seems to possess slightly sedative, mild narcotic properties.
White Mullein. Torches. Mullein Dock. Our Lady's Flannel. Velvet Dock. Blanket Herb. Velvet Plant. Woollen. Rag Paper. Candlewick Plant.
Habitat, Description, Harvest:
Mullein is a widely distributed plant, being found all over Europe and in temperate Asia as far as the Himalayas, and in North America is exceedingly abundant as a naturalized weed in the eastern States. This plant is biennial and there are many species too. I stay with the ones that have a white mid vein and white hairs along the flower stalk. The leave can get huge, up to 2 feet long when happy, but the plant starts as a small and fuzzy rosette each spring that grows larger and larger the first year. The second year rosette emerges large and the flower stalk quickly rises from the center by late spring of the second year. Leaves are harvest through the summer of the first year to spring of the second. Flowers are harvest in the summer of the second and final year.
Herbalists seek these easily found abundant medicine plants for they provide through efficiency and potency for the relevant conditions of our times, and also provide teachings of the power of simplicity and ease through their actions.
Traditional Medicine Preparations:
For year I’ve harvested fresh Mullein leaf for tincture, dried Mullein leaves for infusions, teas and for smoke blends, freshly wilted flowers (leave out on a towel for a day so some of the water evaporates off) for Mullein Flower Infused Olive Oil.
Mullein Leaves for Respiratory and GI Complaints
Carefully examine each leaf to check for mold or decay on the leaf undersides as these should not be harvested for medicine making. Once harvested, I either dry them whole in bundles of 4-6 stalks, or I cut the leaves cross-wise and dry in 3-5 days and store away from moisture and light. When harvesting both first and second year mullein leaves. The hairs are prominent so have a good straining method before ingesting to prevent irritation in the throat.
Mullein is found in all formulas addressing the lungs for any respiratory ailments from coughs due to colds and flus to management of asthma. Less often noted but just as potent are the GI Tract benefits of toning and supporting digestion while soothing irritation to mucous lining. Taken as infusion, homemade syrup, or tincture, many feel the expansion of the entire chest cavity and a lengthening of the spine as breathing muscles of the diaphragm and between the ribs are relaxed so they can work more efficiently in a regular healing breath rhythm that improves air flow, oxygenation, and expectoration of excessive mucous and/or infection lodged and festering in our lung tissue. Coughing is good. But we want efficient deep coughs to clear the lungs well. The calming and expansiveness of these actions is specific for easing the spasms associated with asthma. Mullein is safe for long term dosing for such chronic conditions as this. Recover from irritated and inflamed GI tract conditions is hastened in the presence of the demulcent and astringent properties of Mullein that encourage toned well-functioning mucosa to get back on tract.
Mullein Flowers for the Ears
These delicate yet potent flowers are harvested for making oil for the ears for impacted ear wax mobilization and for inflammation and infection, though I tend to combine with garlic to enhance the antiseptic properties. I suggest just Mullein flower oil for impacted ear wax, any visible lesions, or abscesses in the ear canal. Please drop NOTHING in the ear canal if the ear drum is ruptured, draining mucous with a bit of blood, and already in a healing process. Before rupture, the pain is of course excruciating, but is relieved instantly with the pressure release of rupturing. The ear drum is designed to do this, and quickly, and needs no help other than keeping the outer ear clean and dry with warm soapy cloth as it drains. I encourage the person to lay affected ear down and allow the ear to naturally drain with the help of gravity onto a towel. It looks much like blowing your nose through your ear with a little blood show. Nasty, yes… but so good it’s draining away and they have found comfort from the pain! You will do more harm than good putting anything into the ear at this time. Treat the immune system internally instead, along with rest, ample hydration, and simple nourishing soups.
It is easy to find traveling otoscopes (to look inside the ear canal) for less than 15$ today and it’s a great simple tool for the practice of visualizing the ear canal when healthy and sick. It’s the only way to truly learn what an infection looks like. We must know the tissue when well for comparison so I encourage regular peeks inside the ear canal to learn. It's not hard and one can get quite good at it quickly with a little practice. Inner ear infections versus outer ear infections of the canal are easily discerned as well, though treatment is the same with localized instilling of an oil, pain management, and immune support with herbs, rest hydration and simple nourishing soups.
Pain is managed best with nervine herbs such as Chamomile, Skullcap, or Valerian root (there are others too), and hot salt packs I learned years ago from Rosemary Gladstar. Simply warm 2 cups of dry salt in a dry pan until warm to the wrist, but not too hot to touch. Pour into a bowl lined with a clean hand towel, gather up the corners and tie closed and place over the infected painful ear. Sometimes I add a few drops of Eucalyptus or Lavender essential oil. This stops pain almost instantly while other therapies are kicking in, increases circulation to the area and speeds drainage of the infection through opening the Eustachian tubes and sinuses. So simple and works great.
Interesting Historical Notes:
"The flower stalk oozes a brown protective, self-healing resin for the plant that was once used in baking like Vanilla is today for it has a faint vanilla aroma and has also a great history in fermentation of stouts and liqueurs.
Rotenone is a fish poison and very effective insecticide originally of plant origin but now synthetically produced by our government. It occurs in mullein seeds and seed capsules, and leaves. Mullein seeds and seed capsules have been used as fish poison in the past. Mullein seeds and flowering stalks were also used to get rid of lice and scabies. Rotenone is water insoluble, but readily soluble in ethanol, acetone, and other organic solvents such as olive oil. Fatal rotenone poisoning causes respiratory failure, ironic, huh? Mild rotenone poisoning from inhaled mullein smoke may be spasmolytic (reduces spasms) for asthmatics and chronic bronchitis. It may suppress the cough reflex, and, act as a local anodyne (pain killer) for inflamed ear canals. Rotenone is more toxic when inhaled than when ingested. Once again, the poisonous substances of plants in low doses produce some of our strongest medicines." – Thank you to Ryan Drum.
Personal Journeys with Mullein
My first year in herbal school I received visions from Mullein as the tall flower stalk superimposed as the spine within our human form. Mullein had me see and feel this in my body so I could truly know this expansion and lengthening as my cells, tissues, and bones as they made more space within my body for movement both physical and energetic. Grief work, which was in my lap back then, I learned would be a healer and teacher who would be present all through life, not just for me, but we all have this work in our lap. While I sat with these gentle giants, I learned how Mullein deeply assists us with re-patterning our stance in the presence of the grief we attempt to carry. It allows the protective heart posture of collapsing our shoulders forward with a rounded back as we pull our heart away from the world to open, to expand. Mullein supports movement, flow, and the release of the tears behind the rage, which is often one of the many masks of grief, as we re-learn a new posture, a new stance, in the presence of our grief as teacher. Solidified and held grief makes us sick. It must move. Mullein is often communal in how it grows and this mirrors the medicine of grief that also needs community. We are learning still.
Asthma, respiratory, ear and GI tract lessons have all been learned on the job as a mom of three sons who each gave me the lessons I needed on how to assess and treat such conditions as I nudged their bodies back to health. And yes, our children carry their own grief too, sometimes lineage, personal, or collectively rooted. Mullein has always been in my home apothecary since my very first creation of an apothecary. It’s easily found in herb and health food stores for reasonable prices due to abundance and ease of harvest, or found when away from home in wild places where newly disturbed soil encourages the seeds to germinate as one of the first plants to do so in such places. Each mother plant in seed makes thousands of tiny black round seed on the huge stalks that can get up to 10 feet tall. If you find yourself on new land without Mullein there are two ways I love to entice Mullein closer. One is to call to Mullein deep within. Make an offering too. It will always come to those who wait and our work is to remain poised and ready to receive. Many are surprised at how Mullein shows up too. The other way is to find stalks in seed and carefully transport to your land in some creative way. Then wave and whack these as massive wands over areas you think Mullein will love, partly to full sun is preferred. I sing softly and speak praise to this beauty too. I imagine I’m quite a sight and it makes for great conversation from non-gardening or non-herbalist neighbor folk!
Thank you for wandering through here. Much love, Jen
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine