Mullein is rarely cultivated in the herbalist’s garden as it is a common wild volunteer that seemingly sprouts up out of nowhere (lucky for those of us who gratefully use it for medicine). The name is thought to come from the Latin word for soft, “mollis,” referring to the fuzzy leaves.

The most common variety of this species from the snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family is Verbascum thapsis, though there are some 300-other species from this genus. This fuzzy wide leaf plant is a biennial — establishing roots and leaves the first year, and flowering the second year, leaving seeds behind to replenish and spread the population the next year.

Historically, mullein leaf tea has been used for respiratory ailments, helping to soothe simple sore throats, coughs and colds, as well as discomforts associated with pneumonia, bronchitis and tuberculosis. The lost art of employing the herbal poultice could be revived by seeing how comforting this herb is on any issues associated with the chest and back.  A mashed poultice of the leaf or concentrated tea compress can also be applied to skin to support wound healing, soothe bruises and irritations. The hairs on the fresh plant may be irritating to sensitive skin; making tea or mashing the leaves will calm this problem. Traditionally, oral use of the tea is was found to be supportive for respiratory, joint and circulatory health.  It’s mildly bitter flavor reveals its benefit in a variety of digestive discomforts. The tea may also be used as a sitz bath for rectal or perineal discomfort following childbirth.

If using the leaf, harvest them in the fall of the first year. The second season of growth produces the flowers, offering yellow blossoms that are edible, mildly sweet and mucilaginous; they are delicious in salads. The dried flowers can be infused with olive oil and is a classic remedy for ear discomforts at any age.  The flower stalk can reach 4 to 8 feet high. Dating back to Roman times the dried stalks were dipped in animal fat and used as torches, denoting the name “candlewick plant.” Other names include flannel leaf, bunny ears, Jacob’s staff, and many more.

Both the leaf and flower contain mucilage and saponins, which can soothe mucous membranes throughout the body. It also supports a healthy inflammatory response and your body’s ability to keep germs from taking hold. Some Native American tribes traditionally used the root, though this is rare in Western herbalism today.

Writer Mindy Green is a founding and professional member of the American Herbalists Guild and an advisory board member to the American Botanical Council, publisher of Herbal Gram Magazine. Ms. Green served on the faculty of the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies (1995-2003). The California School of Herbal Studies is among Mindy’s business ventures as co-owner and a faculty member (1985-1995). She is a nationally certified Registered Aromatherapist and has served on the education committees of the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists and the Aromatherapy Registration Council. She now runs her own consulting company, Green Scentsations, LLC.

 A prolific writer and lecturer, Ms. Green has authored over 60 published articles on herbs, aromatherapy, skin care, holistic health and integrative care.  She is co-author of Aromatherapy, A Complete Guide to the Healing Art; author of Calendula and Natural Perfumes, and has contributed to numerous books on herbs and healing.  As a botanical-therapies expert, she has been interviewed more than 400 times by leading magazines and newspapers.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or to sell any product.