Ohio Master Herbalist Mary Colvin - Monthly Articles

MULLEIN

(Verbascum thapsus)

    Mullein tea is a common folklore remedy for pulmonary conditions, but I use it often for many other situations. Mullein was one of the first herbs that I learned about, but quickly became one of my favorites! It has gone by many different names throughout the centuries; such as, Aaron’s rod, flannel plant, velvet dock, lungwort, shepherd’s staff, or even Cowboy Toilet Paper! It was once used as a lamp wick before cotton was introduced, and became known as the Candlewick plant. Ancient civilizations would dip the dried stalk in suet and light it as a torch, thus becoming named Torches. Mullein also had a reputation of driving away evil spirits in both Europe and Asia. In India, it was believed to guard against evil spirits and magic.(1) In Western Herbalism, it is used mainly for coughs, or other bronchial afflictions due to the mucilage content in this herb. Keep reading, and I will tell you about its many other benefits!
     This herb is not native to the US, but came to us from the early settlers, and became settled itself along with them. You will find this plant spread out in every state. Mullein is considered a hardy biennial. This means that it will grow the leaves the first year, the stalk and flowers the second year, and then die off. You will notice the first year leaves because they grow in a rosette with a soft velvety touch. The leaves have a similar appearance to Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), but are bigger. Lamb’s ears do not grow in the same rosette pattern as Mullein either when they first appear. The leaves are a light green almost whitish in color because of the downy hairs covering them. These same hairs act as a protectant by preventing attacks from creeping insects, and they can set up irritation in the mucous membranes of any grazing animal. (1) They are lanceolate-oblong and can grow 6 to 8 inches long. They are roughly 2 to 2 ½ inches wide. The leaves narrow at the base and extend down the stem giving it a “wing-like” appearance. These are called “decurrent leaves”. The second-year plant could grow a stalk up to 8 ft tall! (Now, some folks might find one well past that size, but I only quote the average height. I will even use words such as, “likely” or “could”, so you know that I am not measuring every plant in the state of Ohio. Just because you might find one or two that exceed the average height does not mean that I am inaccurate, or misleading in any way. I just wanted to respond to any confusion some might have had in my past articles.) The flowers will appear sporadically on the thick spike of the second-year plant. The flowers themselves are golden yellow with five rounded petals about one inch in diameter. They will bloom anywhere between late June and September. Mullein prefers somewhat dry conditions in disturbed soil that drains easily. You will most likely see them in the full sun near roadsides, fields, meadows, or along railroad tracks. If you would like to grow some in your own yard for medicinal purposes, be sure to plant the seed in an area that is free of weeds. If you want to grow Mullein for the flowers, I suggest planting Greek Mullein ( V. olympicum) which produces many more flowers on its stems plus they are easier to harvest.
     Now that you know how to identify it, let’s look at the medicinal benefits. Mullein is considered an emollient (externally soothing), a demulcent (internally soothing to inflamed tissue), anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, anthelmintic, anodyne (relieves pain externally), and analgesic (relieves pain internally). The leaves, flowers, and roots have been used to produce these actions. Because of the abundance of soothing mucilage (a gel-like substance that contain protein and polysaccharides), it is soothing and protective of irritated or inflamed tissue or surfaces. This is beneficial for sore throats, ulcers, rashes, indigestion, heartburn, and hemorrhoids. This same mucilage gives the plant expectorant properties because it has the ability to loosen mucous and move it out of the body. I usually have Mullein oil (made with the flowers) on hand all year long to break up congestion in the lungs, and move out the mucous. Who needs Mucinex when you have everything you need for free in your area? You can also make a tea of the leaves to serve the same purpose. The astringent properties can help with wounds, hemorrhoids, and diarrhea. Dr. John Christopher explains, “Mullein soothes and strengthens the bowels and renal system, and is one of the most important herbs for the glands and the serious and mucous membranes”. (2) He also goes on to say that, “It is the only herb known to man that has remarkable narcotic properties without being poisonous and harmful. It is a great herbal pain killer and nervous soporific calming and quieting all inflamed and irritated nerves”. (2) As for being beneficial to the glands, it is one of the first herbs I will grab to reduce any glandular swellings, or to reduce swellings of any kind due to the anti-inflammatory properties of this herb. I have a friend who needed help reducing some swelling in her knee. I explained how to make a strong infusion of the plant, place a cotton towel into the tea/infusion, wring it out, and proceed to place it on the affected area. This not only reduced the swelling, but also alleviated the pain she was experiencing before the entire swelling went away. A tincture of the flowers can also help with toothaches, and migraine headaches. The crushed fresh flowers will also remove warts as long as they are completely covered and no oxygen can get to the wart. It is a wonderful herb to use for sciatica, sprains, burns, swollen joints, bleeding bowels, and mastitis (infection in the breast tissue). The oil of Mullein flowers is also considered an anti-bacterial, and works well with ear infections (be sure there is no rupture of the ear drum before placing oil directly into the ear canal), and cold sores. Sinusitis sufferers could also benefit from using Mullein. Matthew Wood (author of The Earthwise Herbal) quotes, “Mullein opens the lungs, reduces coughing and tightness, lubricates the mucosa, relaxes the larynx, opens the sinuses, and causes a more open feeling in the head and brain”. (3) It has long been used to kill parasites and worms, and a recent study in 2010 confirmed its anthelmintic and antispasmodic properties. (4) The leaves and roots were once smoked to relieve wheezing, asthma symptoms, or congestion; however, you can crush the leaves and light them in an incense. Inhaling the smoke to relieve those situations without actually smoking the herb can also be achieved. Some consider the energetic use of Mullein for those “intellectual” people. “It is for people who think too much and congest the mind, or suffer mental tightness and congestion following difficult projects”, says Matthew Wood. He states that, “Mullein gives such a person a feeling like the mind is opened up to breezes on a fresh spring day – speaking from personal experience”. (3) I have to say that I understand that feeling he is talking about since I have experienced it myself when my sinuses are congested, and Mullein works at moving out that congestion. I haven’t worked with energetics, but I can believe that experience with this particular herb. Even though Modern herbalists usually think of using Mullein in pulmonary conditions, it can be utilized for so much more as I have explained.
     Harvest the leaves from the first-year plant, and only harvest 1/3 of the plant. The flowers are picked once they open from the second-year plant. I will have directions on how to make the oil below. The leaves and flowers contain a good amount of water, so drying time will take a bit longer than others. Store any dried flowers or leaves in an air-tight jar in a cool, dark area until needed. The roots are harvested from the first-year plant in the fall used similarly as the leaves, but are not commonly used. There are some that might have a reaction to the hairs on Mullein, so it is pertinent to know if you have allergic reactions to this plant before ingesting. Might be pertinent also to know this before using it as toilet paper in the wild!! To be on the safe side for those people, you could strain the infusion to catch any stray hairs that could cause that reaction. I don’t personally know of anyone who has had this reaction to this herb, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. The seeds are considered potentially toxic due to the content of rotenone (although not toxic to humans) and saponin. The seeds are toxic to fish. This herb is considered by the FDA as “an herb generally recognized as safe”. Large amounts of Mullein could have a laxative effect. Doses for the infusion are 2 – 3 OZ up to 4 times a day. The decoction is stronger, so only take 1 tablespoon up to 3 times a day. Tinctures and other extracts can be taken ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon up to 3 times a day. If you prefer to take capsules, take 2 #00 capsules up to 3 times a day.
     The temperatures are finally reaching higher numbers (for now anyway), and Spring is here! I have noticed that a few of my shrubs or plants are not going to make it because of the extreme winter weather we had, but I am optimistic that others will. I have seeds germinating, and all looks well as another growing season arrives. My Hands-on Herbalism class has started, and I am excited to teach it. Also, three of my formulas have been released for purchasing; although, not in this area yet. I will be sure to let you know when they are available. Happy Spring Cleaning and Gardening!!

Until next month,
Mary Colvin, M.H.



REFERENCES:

1.)     Grieve, M. (1971).  A Modern Herbal. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.

2.)    Christopher, John R. Dr (1976). School of Natural Healing, Springville Utah, Christopher Publications.

3.)    Wood, Matthew (2009).  The Earthwise Herbal.  Berkeley, CA.: North Atlantic Books

4.)    Anthelmintic and relaxant activities of Verbascum Thapsus Mullein, Ali N, Shah SW, Shah I, Ahmed G, Ghias M, Khan I, Ali W. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Mar 30; 12:29. Doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-12-29


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MULLEIN OIL

ONE WAY:
MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • Mason jar
  • Organic olive oil
  • Mullein flowers (Verbascum thapsus)

DIRECTIONS:

Fill the mason jar with your Mullein flowers. The amount doesn’t matter because you will be pouring enough olive oil to cover the flowers. You can then cap, and sit outside in the sun for 3 weeks. Make sure to shake once a day. When the 3 weeks are over, strain the oil into a jar with a lid. Store in a cold, dark area.

ANOTHER WAY:
MATERIALS NEEDED

  • Double boiler
  • Organic olive oil
  • Mullein flowers (V. thapsus)

DIRECTIONS:

Place water in the bottom pan of the double boiler. In the top boiler, combine flowers and olive oil to cover the flowers. Simmer for 60 – 90 minutes, strain, and pour into a jar with a lid. I use this way when the weather isn’t cooperating, or I just can’t wait for the 3 weeks to end because I have a need for the oil now!

 

 


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EXPECTORANT TEA

   

 

MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • ½ OZ dried Mullein leaves/flowers (Verbascum thapsus)
  • ½ OZ dried Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)
  • 1 teaspoon of dried Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • 1 quart of distilled water

DIRECTIONS:

Combine all of the herbs in 1 quart of distilled water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, and immediately bring down to a simmer. Simmer the herbs in the water for 15 minutes. Strain through a muslin cloth, or cheesecloth, and then drink. Add a sweetener if needed, but the licorice should sweeten the tea enough. Drink 1 cup up to 3 times daily. If you have enough for another cup, store in the refrigerator only for that day. You can reheat the tea on the stovetop, and drink.

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