Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and its Uses

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Some herbs we may find ourselves drawn to more than others, like a dear friend. Such is the case with me and mullein. My kinship with this furry towering plant grew rather quickly, even though initially I thought it was a rather strange and weedy looking guy. (Don’t tell him that though!) But as soon as I experienced the benefits this plant has to offer the asthmatic, I was quickly fascinated with the common roadside gem. I’m never very far from some mullein tincture or dried leaves now, and even my three-year-old has seen it often enough to point at it and cry out, “Look, Mommy! It’s mullein!” Ah, my little herb hunter.

Here’s just a little about the mullein, or Verbascum thapsus. I wish I could share even more, but perhaps I’ll do a Part II someday, so many praises can I sing on this one.

Found: Roadsides, wastelands, at the forest’s edge, poor soils.  (I’ve even found it growing in dead leaves on top of old concrete.) Sandpits, gravel pits, 

Identifying: A biennial; first year grows in a basal rosette of large furry leaves, gray-green in color.  Broad and oval leaves.  Second year starts as first, but begins a tall straight stalk which brings the leaves up with it, ending in a flower spike.  Flowers yellow, blossoming July through September. 

Parts Used: Leaves, flowering tops.  One rarely hears of the root being used which is a pity.  I learned from Herbalist Jim McDonald that the root is indeed valuable, and I’ve since prized it as well, using it pretty regularly.

Medicinal Use: Leaf and flower for asthma, bronchitis, coughs and chest colds, expectorant, antispasmodic, diuretic, kidney infections.  Ulcers, tumors, piles.  Flowers soaked in olive oil is excellent for earaches. Highly mucilaginous, so it’s soothing to inflamed mucous membranes.  Anti-inflammatory.  Has been scientifically confirmed as an antiviral against herpes simplex and flu.  In India the stalk is used for cramps, fevers, and migraine. According to Herbalist Jim McDonald, the root is excellent for back issues (in particular the spine), especially a back that suddenly feels out of place. Spinal injuries, pain, misalignment. Also a great herb for people who think too much; “intellectual” types.  Nervousness, sleeplessness, hyperthyroidism.  Sinusitus, feeling of a tight head, painful earaches.  Sore throats, tonsillitis, mumps, allergies, pleurisy, croup.  Deep dry coughs.  Diahrrhea, dysentery, colitis, hemorrhoids.

A Young Mullein Rosette I Photographed in Late April
A Young Mullein Rosette I Photographed in Late April

Preparation:  Dried leaves as tea or tincture, flowers as oil, dried or fresh root as decoction, tea, or tincture.  As a tea, steep 1 tsp. dried leaf in almost boiling water for about 15 – 20 minutes.  Strain very well to remove hairs of leaf.  Root:  I’ve used as a tea, decoction, and tincture.  For tea use fresh or dried, about 1 tsp. to 1 cup of almost boiling water.  Let steep about 30 minutes, covered.  Decoction, place the dried chopped or ground root in 1 cup water, bring to low boil and cook for about 10 minutes.  Let cool to drinking temperature and strain.  

Allergic Reactions/Warnings: Although it’s sometimes referred to as “Indian toilet paper”, some people are sensitive to the hairs on the leaves.  

Video: Herbalist Michael Moore collected video footage of numerous herbs, and they’re all on the SWSBM site.  Take a look at this mullein video to get a better idea of how it looks.  Videos can be quite helpful in learning to identify plants.

Note: These posts are not meant to be a medical guide but an overview. Consulting an herbal specialist is always recommended.

4 thoughts on “Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and its Uses

  1. Pingback: Chris McLaughlin
  2. Thank you for the info. I read about it last winter but had just gotten over my cold so didn’t need it and I had no idea how much to use or how long to steep for tea.

  3. Oh No! There were two huge plants growing in my shade garden, I left them for awhile to see what they were, but when I didn’t recognize them I ripped one out but felt badly so I dug up the other one and put it into another bed but was not too gentle. Haven’t checked it for awhile. It doesn’t grow wild up here that I’ve seen, so I don’t know where it came from. I do have some smaller ones that I bought from the garden center. I’ll check tomorrow morning, it sounds like a great plant.
    It was really a nice looking plant but I have been known to encourage bindweed and horsetail because I thought they were pretty. I had never seen them up here before either.:)

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