Mullein

Primarily used to treat lung diseases and coughs, the mullein plant has been popular throughout history for a number of industrial uses, too.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Mullein, great mullein, common mullein, velvet plant
  • Scientific nameVerbascum thapsus
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Native regionEastern or Central Europe, Central Asia
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal
Mullein

Mullein, a biennial herb native primarily to Europe, Africa, and Asia, has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. The history of mullein is long and involved the plant being used in a variety of industries, although most of its non-medicinal uses have fallen out of favor nowadays.

Mullein has been traditionally used as a cough remedy and as a torch since the time of Ancient Greece - dipped in fat or oil, it would make a slow-burning flame. However, the advent of electric lamps and other lightning techniques diminished its practical popularity. Furthermore, in addition to its medicinal uses, it was also used industrially by various historical peoples, being useful to make dyes and for large-scale fishing.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Antioxidant, Astringent, Expectorant
  • Key constituentsMucilage, iridoid glycosides, tannins, flavonoids
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes
  • Medicinal rating(1) Very minor uses
  • Safety rankingSafety undetermined

The anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties of mullein have been used traditionally for a variety of ailments, including:

  • Soothing earaches and nerve pain
  • Speeding up the recovery of hemorrhoids
  • Treating respiratory infections
  • Treating minor wounds and scrapes

How It Works

Mullein contains around 3% mucilage, which is part of the reason the plant is often used for respiratory illness. The expectorant qualities of the plant are also thought to be due to its saponins.

Other significant compounds are flavonoids and iridoid glycosides.

Flavonoids are directly associated with antioxidant activity, thus mullein is an excellent antioxidant. The iridoid glycosides are the constituents responsible for the anti-inflammatory activity of mullein, and the tannins lend the plant an astringent effect. In addition, the volatile oils give the plant its wound-healing qualities.

How to Consume Mullein

Main preparations: Tea, capsules

For those with respiratory infections or who are just generally congested, a mullein tea should help ease the symptoms, as the tannins help reduce inflammation of the respiratory tract. Mullein supplements can also be bought, each with their own dosage.

Other Uses

Mullein was also traditionally used to stun fish and catch them in large quantities, and this practice is still in use today in some parts of the world.

This versatile herb is usually harvested for its leaves and flowers, but the root is occasionally sought as well. Its traditional use as a torch is now obsolete in modern times, but there are still other ways that this plant can be used. Mullein remains one of the preferred plants for manufacturing natural hair dyes. The leaf is used by campers as a natural alternative to toilet paper and can also be used as diapers, food wrappers, or comfortable insoles for shoes. Caution must be taken, however, when using the dry leaves - they can be irritating to the skin owing to the tiny hairs that cover them.

Buying

Mullein can be bought in capsule form from specialized health stores, and these are taken primarily to promote respiratory balance.

Mullein is not generally eaten raw, but rather is dried and crushed to make teas and ointments. Processing of homegrown mullein is easy; the leaves and flowers simply need to be dried and then crumbled. The powder can then be stored for future use or made into a tea or oil.

Plant Biology

Classification

Great mullein is a biennial plant that can grow up to six feet (1.8 m) tall, although on average it reaches around four feet (1.2 m) tall. It belongs to the Schrophulariaceae plant family, although it is more commonly known as the figwort family, and is classified under the Verbascum genus. This genus includes over 300 species, the most common of which are V. phlomoides, V. thapsiforme, and V. densiflorum.

Mullein is an erect plant that in the first year grows as a rosette of downy, grey leaves. In the second year, a cluster of fragrant yellow flowers sprout from the top, giving the plant its height. It grows best in dry, open spaces, and for this reason, can often be seen at the sides of roads or on wastelands.

Varieties and Subspecies of Mullein

As great mullein grows in a significantly large area, three different subspecies have been identified so far. Verbascum thapsus ssp. thapsus is widespread through Eurasia, while the crassifolium subspecies, with larger flowers and less densely haired stamens, grows only in the central Mediterranean and southwestern Austria. The giganteum subspecies is a Spanish native has white flowers and decurrent leaves. There is also a great variety of hybrids among these three subspecies, most of them created through human intervention.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleBiennial
  • Harvested partsLeaves, Fruit
  • SoilSaline soil
  • Soil pH7.4 – 7.8 (Slightly alkaline)
  • Planting timeSpring, Summer, Fall, Right before first frost
  • Plant spacing average1 m (3.28 ft)

Mullein is an easy-to-grow biennial plant, and requires plenty of space in order for the seeds to germinate. It grows best in temperate and dry regions, and prefers slightly alkaline and sandy soils, with plenty of sunlight, as these conditions will help prevent mildew or other fungi from infesting. Mullein is grown directly from the seed into its final ground, although it can be transplanted as well. It only requires 3 – 4 feet (1 m) between rows, and 2 feet (60 cm) between each plant. The plant will thrive even in the worst soils, and it is hardy enough to survive longer winters.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesPaper

Historical Information

Prior to the 16th century, mullein was believed to be a magical plant in Europe. Later, mullein was known as "Quakers' rouge" because Quaker girls were said to rub it on their cheeks to make them red.

Economic Data

Historically, the economic importance of this plant rested on its use as a torch, fish bait, and as a healing agent. Because it grows wild in many places, mullein cultivation has not produced a significant economic impact.


Bibliography