Learn the Many Uses of Mullein, a Winter Wonder

The leaves and roots of mullein help with respiratory ailments, among others. You can use this herb internally or topically. Here's how.

by Dawn Combs
PHOTO: Shutterstock

The fall landscape contains a lot of brown. Some is typical as we slide into cooler days, but a lot comes from a lack of rain. Our part of Ohio is particularly dry right now, the opposite of the extreme wet we endured when all the crops needed to go in the ground. My husband predicted we would swing from one to the other, and here we are. Which brings us to mullein.

Among the brown elements on the Ohio prairie, mullein stands as a proud reminder of the glorious, lush, furry green growth that was visible just a few short months ago. Throughout the summer, I collected mullein leaves and flowers. Now I collect the roots.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is among my favorite “weeds.” It is a biennial, which means you see a low rosette of fuzzy leaves the first year before it produces its telltale flower stalks. You might can even see where next year’s babies will be if you look at the base of one. Mullein is also called “torch” plant. People are said to have cut off mullein tops, lit them and carried them into mines for light. The plant is certainly resinous enough to merit the idea. Mullein has numerous uses in and on the body, and all parts of it have been used. Here are a few of my favorites.

mullein healing herbs pain relief

Nervous System

You can use mullein leaves in a tea for nervousness, to bring peace to a chattery brain in times of insomnia. A tincture of the roots is known to help in the case of Bell’s palsy.

Respiratory System

Mullein has a special affinity for the respiratory system. It can expel trapped mucus while soothing inflamed soft tissue membranes, making it important for cough, congestion, asthma, whooping cough, sinusitis, hoarseness, allergies, pneumonia, croup, emphysema, bronchitis and pleurisy

It is high in mucilage to soothe and moisturize dry membranes and can be a great addition to daily tonic formulas to strengthen lungs.

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It’s “cough season,” so here is an easy tea to relieve cough or croup:

  • 2 teaspoons mullein
  • 4 ounces hot water
  • 2 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • dollop of raw honey

Pour hot water over the mullein and steep for 15 minutes. Strain. Add lemon juice and honey. Drink 6 ounces three times a day.

Digestive System

For the digestive system, you can use the leaf internally, and in some cases externally for hemorrhoids, diarrhea, enteritis and colitis.

Skeletal System

Mullein leaf is very useful as a poultice over swollen and painful joints. It has also been used internally to address a direct injury to the nervous system such as a spinal injury. I have used it as a supportive therapy to chiropractic care. Mullein is a specific for those who experience repeated misalignments of the spine. Most herbalists suggest the root for misalignments and spinal injuries, but I have also used the leaf successfully.

A topical application of the soft, furry leaves of mullein can relieve tightness in just about any joint.

mullein medicinal herbs
Philip Goddard/Flickr

Urinary System

Mullein leaf tea, with its high mucilage content, helps with nephritis and painful urination.

Endocrine System

Mullein leaf can help hyperthyroidism. You can use it in formula to address inflammation of the pharynx, mumps and chronically swollen lymph glands. A tincture of the roots is said to help with a swollen prostate.

Topical Use

A famed use of mullein involves its small, yellow flowers. When infused into an oil, mullein flowers are among the best remedies to apply topically for ear infections. The leaf is also wonderful poulticed over bruises.

I must admit that this is one of my least favorite leaves to process. Once mullein leaves are dry, they feel a bit like handling insulation. Use gloves and cover your arms. Ironically, it can be a good idea to wear a mask to prevent all the dust from irritating your lungs. While I don’t like the chore, it is worth it to me every year. I wouldn’t go into winter without a stock of this amazing weed.

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