Mullein Herb Plants – Tips On Using Mullein As Herbal Treatments

Mullein Herb Plants – Tips On Using Mullein As Herbal Treatments

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Mullein herb plants, which can reach heights of 6 feet (2 m.) are considered noxious weeds by some people, while others consider them to be valuable herbs. Read on to learn about mullein herbal uses in the garden.

Mullein as Herbal Treatments

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is an herbaceous plant that produces large, woolly, grayish-green leaves and bright yellow flowers in summer, followed by egg-shaped, pale brown fruits in fall. Although mullein is native to Asia and Europe, the plant has naturalized across the United States since it was introduced in the 1700s. You may know this common plant as big taper, velvet dock, flannel-leaf, lungwort, or velvet plant.

The plant has been utilized throughout history for its herbal properties. Medicinal uses for mullein can include:

  • Earaches, middle ear infections
  • Coughs, bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory problems
  • Sore throat, sinus infection
  • Migraine
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Arthritis and rheumatism
  • Urinary tract infection, urinary incontinence, bedwetting
  • Skin diseases, bruises, frostbite
  • Toothache

How to use Mullein from the Garden

To make mullein tea, pour a cup of boiling water over a small amount of dried mullein flowers or leaves. Allow the tea to steep for five to 10 minutes. Sweeten the tea with honey if you don’t like the bitter flavor.

Make a poultice by grinding dried flowers and/or leaves to a fine powder. Mix the powder with water to make a thick paste. Spread the poultice evenly on the affected area, then cover it with gauze or muslin. To avoid making a mess, cover the poultice with plastic wrap. (Native Americans simply heated mullein leaves and applied them directly to the skin.)

Create a simple infusion by filling a glass jar with dried mullein leaves. Cover the leaves with oil (such as olive or sunflower oil) and place the jar in a cool place for three to six weeks. Strain the oil through a cloth-lined strainer and store it at room temperature. Note: There are several effective ways to make an herbal infusion. An online search or a good herbal manual will provide more complete information about herbal infusions.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before using or ingesting ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes or otherwise, please consult a physician or a medical herbalist for advice.

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Benefits of Mullein

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I love watching my garden wake up in the early morning hours of the summer. As the sun readies itself to crest the eastern ridge, birds and bees and small mammals are beginning to stir. Like many mornings, I am captivated this morning by the mullein plants. In this late summer moment, their stalks of creamy yellow blossoms reach into the air, stretching up taller than I am.

Mullein is full of life. A hummingbird is visiting the nearby honeysuckle and its path crisscrosses those tall stalks. A woodpecker, intent on its foraging, doesn’t seem to notice. It goes up and down the stalk, perhaps eating the ants and other bugs as well as eating some of the millions of seeds that are forming. One morning, while I was harvesting strawberries, I found a whole family of voles underneath the thick mullein leaves. The babies were small and hairless, probably only a few days old, the large leaves perfectly curled over their nook, offering a beautiful refuge from the world.

Whether you are considering mullein’s stature, its important role in the greater ecosystem, or its gifts of medicine, it’s hard not to be impressed with this beautiful plant.

Originally from Europe and Asia, mullein species have spread all over North America. They love disturbed soils with lots of sunlight. They can grow in rich garden soil as well as gravelly roadsides. The easiest time to find and identify mullein is in the later summer months and fall, when those tall flowering stalks become a beacon.

Some folks think of mullein as a weed, an uninvited guest from faraway lands. Perhaps because of its stature, mullein is an easy target for misplaced hatred or at least misunderstanding. It’s a strange thing that humans disturb soils and habitats and then blame the plants that come to nourish and heal the bare earth. Mullein, as generous as ever, offers many gifts and virtues to humans. My hope is that fewer people see mullein as an unwanted guest and more as a bountiful herb that we are lucky to have.

Uses For Mullein Herbs: How To Use Mullein Plants In The Garden - garden

We have a patch of woolly mullein growing in a corner of the hayfield. While mullein is considered a common weed, it has some very beneficial uses. It's easily identifiable and easy to forage.

I love that so many herbs grow wild here on our land. Even though they're not all growing close at hand in my yard, I know where they are and that they are available when I need them.

Woolly Mullein

Woolly mullein (or "wooly" - it's spelled both ways) is also known as common mullein, great mullein, flannel mullein, velvet dock, flannel leaf, witch's taper, candlestick and other names. It grows in "disturbed places" such as roadsides, ditches, fields and abandoned areas.

There is a huge patch in a cattle pasture down the road from us where some dozer work was done a few years ago. The flower spikes are easily visible from the dirt road and I sometimes stop the car to watch the bees busily working the flowers.

Mullein is a biennial, taking two years to complete its growing cycle. The large, fuzzy, sage-green leaves grow low to the ground the first year and are quite unmistakeable by their size and texture in the second year the plant sends up a tall flowering spike that can reach six feet or more in height. Even if you couldn't identify mullein in its first year of growth, you won't be able to miss it once it sends up its flower spike with little yellow flowers.

Found throughout the United States in zones 3-9, mullein prefers partial sun and dry soil, and will continue to grow and thrive through drought years.

The plants are hard to transplant due to the very long taproot, but in spring you can find usually find seedlings near the brown stalks of last year's plants. I've successfully transplanted the small seedlings because the tap root isn't long yet. You can also gather and plant the tiny seeds in the fall.

Why you might want to plant some mullein of your own

Mullein is worth growing in your garden for the texture of the leaves and the striking flower stalks. The flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects. And wouldn't your child or grandchild enjoy stroking the soft fuzzy leaves? Nurturing a relationship between children and plants is time well spent.

Besides being soft and fuzzy, mullein is also a very useful herb. Teas and ointments made from its leaves are used to treat respiratory problems, lung diseases, burns, rashes and more. The tiny hairs that make the leaves soft and fuzzy can be irritating though, so any teas must be strained and filtered carefully to remove the hairs.

Mullein can also be tinctured and taken to treat coughs and other respiratory issues.

Leaves for these purposes should be harvested during the first year of growth, according to the information I've read. In other words, if the plant has a flower spike and a tall growth habit, it's too old for this use. Look for plants with a flat growing habit and a round rosette pattern of leaves.

Second-year plants are also useful though. The tiny yellow flowers on the flower spikes provide a soothing and cleansing effect on skin problems. An easy treatment for minor wounds and scrapes is to use mullein tea as a wash.

The flowers can also be infused in oil and used as a very effective treatment for ear infections. You can combine that same mullein-infused oil with beeswax to make a mild but effective ointment that prevents and treats diaper rash.

If you'd like to find out how to infuse plants in olive oil, check out this post on infusing oils for soap-making. The oil is made the same way, whether you plan to use it in soapmaking, make a salve or ointment, or use it to treat an ear infection.

Foraging mullein leaves and flowers

Because the flowers are tiny and open over a period of time, it's necessary to either harvest from a large patch or to pick some open flowers daily. Remember to harvest responsibly: don't strip a patch bare by taking all the plants and/or flowers.

If you want to make tea with mullein leaves, harvest leaves from first-year plants that don't have a flower spike. You might want to use gloves since those tiny hairs on the leaves can irritate your skin. The stalks will ooze a thick liquid when they're cut, so take a bag along to carry your leaves back home in.

Have you ever noticed a mullein flower stalk that is twisted, forked or crooked? The stalks indicate the contamination level of the soil. A straight stalk indicates clean soil if the stalks are anything other than straight and healthy, the soil is contaminated by chemicals.

Be aware of where the mullein plants are growing before you begin foraging. Plants that grow along a roadside can be contaminated by exhaust fumes from cars.

In the Victorian language of flowers this represent a person’s good nature and positive characteristics.

Where to begin? Mullein is one of the most multi-faceted healing plans known. Externally it reduces pain and swelling. Smoking the herb managed many of the symptoms associated with respiratory infections and drinking Mullein tea deterred digestive problems. According to herbalists it acts as an expectorant, astringent, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory depending on its preparation.

It’s important to note that several Native American tribes considered this a spiritual healing herb too. It was used for fits, for people thought under the control of wizardry, and if a person passed out a smudge stick acted like smelling salts! Beyond that they had more mundane curatives such as Mullein soaks for foot infections or infusions to clear kidney problems.

Medicinal Mullein

Although not useful as a food, mullein (which is reportedly an antispasmodic, diuretic, expectorant, demulcent, astringent, sedative, and a non-narcotic pain killer) has, throughout history, been used in many medicinal applications. Its dried leaves have been smoked, burned as incense, and used in steam vapor to relieve lung congestion. A fresh leaf, when wrapped around a bleeding finger, makes a fine emergency bandage, and — in Appalachia — colds are commonly treated with mullein tea.

The flowers, if steeped in olive oil for about three weeks, produce an ointment that has been used to treat frostbite, chapped skin, hemorrhoids, and earache and is said to remove rough warts if applied as a poultice.

The plant's foliage can also serve as blotters, toilet paper, containers for vegetables when cooking in a fire pit, and "gloves" when gathering such thorny herbs as stinging nettles. In pioneer days, girls in the Midwest rubbed their faces with mullein "fur" to bring a rosy flush to their cheeks, and — even today — children find that the big leaves make excellent blankets for doll beds!

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