You'll find a list of all my blog posts in the blog archive.

Herb of the week: Mullein.

Photo: Verbascum thapsus 5. A short profile:

Latin: various species of Verbascum. Any will do, even the tiny perennials, never mind that books will tell you that only V. phlomoides, or V. thapsus, or similar will work.
Family: Scrophulariaceae, figwort family.
Parts used: Flowering top, (leaf), root.
Taste: well ... hairy. The root is a bit soapy in taste. (The smell of the green parts (at least of the non-hairy species) is disgusting. Akin to that of a lot of Stachyses and to that of Scrophularia herself. Yech. Not something that invites to nibble on the leaf ... so I haven't tasted mullein greens.)
4 humors: Neutral, perhaps?


  • A nice anti-inflammatory, externally and internally.
  • Earache.
  • Coughs.
  • Add to tobacco to help stop smoking.


  • I just lop off the flower stalks: while picking off flowers one by one by one by one is nice I don't have the TIME to do that, in high summer, which is quite short where I'm at. Much too much else to pick, right then.
  • If you add the leaf to your tobacco pouch, don't use bone dry leaf ... that'll make you hack something fierce. Leave the leaf a little bendy, not really crushably dry.
  • I did add it to my tobacco, years and years ago when I still smoked. And I used to leave tobacco pouch+paper+filters on the porch, cos I smoked only outdoors. A day or two after I added mullein, the whole shebang disappeared. Wonder what those hopefuls thought the green in the tobacco was ... snigger. (Didn't help me stop smoking, though. Willpower helped, in the end. And of course, it's easy to stop smoking: I've done it dozens of times.)
  • Flowery-themed toilet paper, oh my. One word: don't. It'll itch something fierce.


  • An oil of the flowering top is great for ear aches and various aches and pains elsewhere.
  • The root is good for the urinary dribbles. Give it a shot after childbirth or in menopause. And bedwetting. For instance.
  • The flowering tops smell so bad that I don't really add them to any teas: clients are expected to take their tea, and getting a noseful every time they open their bag of tea doesn't help with compliance. (And I don't do all that many tinctures really.)
  • The hairs of the hairy species can irritate tender mucous membranes. Use a coffee filter for various liquids you make from mullein; straining through a sieve isn't enough. That goes for mullein flower oils as well: the flowers, too, are hairy.

Also check Jim McDonald's take on mullein.

Comments on Facebook:

  • From Vladi R.:
    One of my fav herbs. I love the way it self-seed in my garden so I'm never short of it :-)))
    5 March at 13:49
  • From Juliette M.:
    used it for a painful ear infection due to wax , calmed it down within 2 days but I could feel there was still blockage. And then while falling asleep a couple days later, "Plop" felt something pop out of my ear! A big ball of wax! thank Mullein, or bouillon blanc in my part of the world:-)
    It is also really beautiful and worth having around just for it's looks and so my kids can stroke it's beautiful "bunny ear" leaves and marvel at their incredible softness. I use the leaves as well in tobacco and for coughs (yep quitting is the easy part, not starting again is the hard part!)
    Anyone tried making Mullein stout "a la" Ryan Drum?
    5 March at 14:02
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    There are utterly gorgeous species, like V. bombyciferum ... which won't grow in my garden: we're too cold. :-/
    I've found that mullein oil calms an ear ache really fast, like, drop in a few drops, snap your fingers, and the earache is gone.
    Mullein stout, eh? :-)
    5 March at 14:31
  • From Mala B.:
    My dog has floppy ears and gets a dose of mullein oil when they get a bit smelly. Just 2 drops per ear and we're done until the next bath.
    It's great as a tincture for my sensitive airways. I'm prone to a low-level bronchitis when it's cold or I'm run-down. Mullein is good for getting rid of the inflammation.
    I've got a small herb-growing project starting this year so there'll definitely be be Mullein growing outside the Garden Museum.
    5 March at 14:59
  • From Juliette M.:
    Noticed something the other day while pulling out thistles from the school garden (without gloves .. Aaargh I need to stash a pair there for my impromptu weeding sessions)
    The thistles growing out from under the huge Mullein that self seeded didn't have prickers on the part of the stem hidden away. Pretty cool how Mullein even softened the thistles! Anyone else notice this?
    23 April at 21:08

Comments on the herblist:

  • From Sharon Hodges-Rust
    Date: 2012 03 05 - 09:32:10 +0200

    I have used the fresh flowers like an antihistamine. I have drank it in a fresh flower tea and chewed it up in the field. My niece too she was having allergy attack while we were out and i had her chew up the flowers, works to settle down the irritated eyes, nose and throat. Maybe it is just anti inflammatory action, not truly antihistamine, but it feels somewhat like that to me.
    sort of drying, and the flower petals are hairy too btw...

  • From Zoe Hawes
    Date: 2012 03 05 - 09:32:18 +0200

    I do pick the individual yellow flowers, one by one. The season is longer here and they flower gradually up the stem. I use a sieve to collect them in so that I don't end up with mullein flower and flea beetle infused oil.

  • From Rose
    Date: 2012 03 05 - 15:02:50 +0200

    Beautiful, wild verbascum. I honor it through the stories of others, rather than my own (preferred) experience.

    Mullein is one of the herbs I've rarely used myself, but have shared it, anti-anecdotally, with students over the years. :)

    Moms seem drawn to it. I recall several who have praised the flower oil for managing ear-ache in wee ones, praising that even a wee bit massaged around the back of the ear at onset of symptoms/distress helped and potentially aided in preventing infection (this was the perception of two young moms).

    Three other moms, sharing similar stories of pre-teen/teen children being given a Dx of asthma (or in one case: "pre-asthma" ~ WTH??). In conjunction with nourishing/toning the immune system and the whole body ("Real" food, in season, etc.), each used the leaf tea, filtered, with results perceived as positive. One no longer experiences respiratory distress ~ for several years now ... another, only in conjunction with allergies, and still (I believe) uses the tea as a support ... the third, I've lost touch with.

    As for me ... last year I spotted a nice stand of mullein on private property on which I have permission to wild-harvest. This year I will return to gather some roots ... for tincturing and infusing in oil (don't know why I didn't get to it last year). I'm anxious for some personal experience with this plant, which grows all around me, as if taunting. And the more miles I get on this body of mine, the more I appreciate the green friends that help to manage aches and pains.

  • From jim mcdonald
    Date: 2012 03 05 - 16:25:07 +0200

    *the mullein toilet paper test*:

    So, you've heard mullein leaves have been used for toilet paper, because it's soft and fuzzy? It certainly has, but it's also been called "quaker rouge", since if you rub the leaves on your cheeks, it'll make them redder. Now, why would that be? Oh! I know... because the hairs on the leaves are superficially soft, but also kind of irritating... they irritate the skin, more blood gets sent to that area.

    So, now back to our butts... different cheeks, same principle. I've had a few students who have used it camping and been, well (sorry can't help it) "bummed" out afterward by their itchy bottom.

    *But*.. this doesn't happen to everyone, and apart from the fuzzy nature, it's a nice sized leaf for wiping. So, a quick test: before wiping your (I'm sure) wonderfully soft skinned behind with some mullein leaves, maybe try the inside of your forearm, and wait 15 minutes... no reaction? Well, that's a helpful sign. You can test your luck on your bum. Get all red and itchy? Oh, thank all you hold dear and sacred that it's just your arm a'itchin'.

    (wanted to contribute something not all ready on the link henriette posted... but please, do share any mullein back/spine stories... I collect them)

  • From Maryann
    Date: 2012 03 05 - 17:39:41 +0200

    "try the inside of your forearm, and wait 15 minutes... no reaction? Well, that's a helpful sign."

    I can't help it, Jim, but I keep thinking if one truly needed the Mullein for this purpose, could one wait the 15 minutes required for the test? : )

  • From jim mcdonald
    Date: 2012 03 05 - 17:56:13 +0200

    "I can't help it, Jim, but I keep thinking if one truly needed the Mullein for this purpose, could one wait the 15 minutes required for the test? : )"

    see, this is one of the reasons I really like herb lists: you write something up, and it seems all clear to you, and you post it and see that this doesn't mean everyone else can channel your unwritten subtext:

    so, insert into the previous post: "before you need to hastily evacuate last night's chili out in the wilderness, try rubbing some mullein leaves on the inside of your forearm, and wait 15 minutes... no reaction? Well, that's a helpful sign."

    (because the cayenne in last night's chili just might not jive with irritation from mullein hairs)

  • From Kirk W.
    Date: 2012 03 05 - 18:32:54 +0200

    I love Mullein for its demulcent actions. I suffered with winter dry sinuses for years. During the months of December through March my sinuses would bleed quite regularly. I began using Mullein tincture and or tea a few years ago, and have not experienced this seasonal dryness since. On a trip to Arizona in October and November of 2010, I suffered miserably from the dry climate. I went to a health food store, and purchased some 1:2 Mullein tincture. After one dose the symptoms began to subside. Within a day or so, my sinuses were back to normal.

    While at deer camp in November of 2009, two of my friends were complaining of a nagging dry cough. We deduced that the cough was caused by sinus drainage, so I reasoned that they may benefit from the mucus membrane toning effects of Mullein. I went out and found some Verbascum thapsus, and brewed a pot of tea. Within 15 minutes of finishing the tea their coughing stopped completely. They each drank a cup of tea twice a day and were virtually cough free the entire week. I gave each guy a small bottle of tincture when we got back to town, and forgot all about it. One of the guys called the following spring to tell me that he had a sinus infection he just could not shake. I suggested trying the Mullein tincture I had given him. I suggested increasing the frequency to tid. He did so, and called to tell me that all symptoms disappeared within a day and a half. I have since suggested the same therapy to two additional people, and they experienced similar results.

  • From Jen Y.
    Date: 2012 03 06 - 04:03:52 +0200

    I love love love mullein. I use it quite often. I have used it successfully as a poultice to help heal tendon / ligament issues in painful joints. I steam the beautiful leaves and apply them as moist heat. I even used this method once for a nasty case of mastitis in a pinch. After one application the painful, hot, engorged breast softened and healed. It was quite amazing actually!

    I also have used garlic mullein oil to help many children in my community make it through the night with ear infections.

    My daughter has always been completely in love with mullein as well. One of my favorite memories of her as a toddler involved mullein that she had gathered on our morning walks. She would curl up and cuddle the big soft leaves while she napped.

    I harvested and tinctured the root last season. It made this amazingly dark rich tincture that I look forward to using for sciatica. Has anyone used mullein root tincture for this purpose successfully? What is the suggested dosage and how often should it be taken??

  • From Cami R.
    Date: 2012 03 08 - 16:46:40 +0200

    Mullein is so comforting in a cough, I think especially a dry one. Just a drop or two of tinctured mullein leaf always makes my lungs feel as if they have been given a security blanket, instant protection from the urgency of needing to cough, while still producing whatever expectoration needs to come up, easily (not urgently) moving it out. A puff of the leaf smoke feels the same. This year I tinctured the leaf and a few flowers with honey and everclear for a cough syrup which works nicely on its own.

    However, I tried to be creative and recently combined a little with cherry bark and balsam root tincture (my enthusiastic favorite for breaking up wet lung crud) and together they seemed to completely neutralize the benefits of the others - NOTHING. No throat numbing, no thunderous balsamic resonance, no blanket - they canceled each other out.

    The smooth roots are a picture of alignment and sinew. I couldn't stop running my fingers over the roots and inner stalks before tincturing them last summer - it's grape jello colored in the jar. Had some luck with necks that are 'out' encouraged to realign within minutes with a few drops on the tongue, and a few drops on the area of the body that needs attention, combined with a little focused energy work. The first time we actually heard a 'sshhhhhhkk' slide/click of something rearranging itself.

    And of course the flowers in ear oil, warmed and a drop or two in both ears to stop ear pain and turn the infection around quickly - often with one dose. I have used them for years with any child's ear infection I came across (they were never advanced ones) and never has anyone moved on to antibiotics. As for the flower picking and patience - I also have only enough to pick individual flowers for so long, then chop up a prolific flower stalk with scissors and in it goes. It works so well I usually don't always add garlic.

    Years ago I unwittingly encouraged my three year old to wipe with mullein in a mountaintop poop emergency (insert Remorse Face).

  • From Lisa Rose Starner
    Date: 2012 03 08 - 18:04:10 +0200

    "The smooth roots are a picture of alignment and sinew."

    I like your association of Mullein Root to sinew... Will ponder that. I have used the infusions of the leaf to support the skeletal/joint realignment and more and more am turn laying around with Mullein Root for this -- reaching for it in combo with long infusions of the leaf. I've found tincture to work like a charm (with a similar slide/click in combo with energy work you mention) on sacral misalignment (that would occur from inappropriate jarring movement, or tweaking during menstrual cramping, Etc).

    Also am keen on using Mullein Root as an ingredient in connective tissue blends with Solomon's Seal and Teasel, especially when there is fluid on the joint in question.

    Mullein is one of my most favorite herbs.

  • From Christophe Bernard
    Date: 2012 03 08 - 23:02:45 +0200

    Not sure what else to add, so let me share some of the traditional uses from the south of France:

    - Used for painful and swollen breasts (mastitis), poultice of the leaves around the breasts. I don't think this works as well as cabbage leaves though.

    - Used for hydrarthrosis as poultice of the leaves around the joint - knees in particular. The recipe calls for powdering the leaves and making a paste with lukewarm water, then applying the paste around the joint. It was also used for horses suffering from hydrarthrosis. Interesting to blend in Matt Wood's view here, mullein being moistening and lubricating to synovial membranes. Here mullein would reduce, dry-up an overabundance of synovial fluid due to inflammation. A synovial fluid regulator shall we say?

    - For hemorrhoids, macerate flowers in warm milk, make a paste and apply locally.

    - For inflamed lungs, used as poultice over the lungs area, using leaves.

    - For children's irritated coughs: infuse leaves in hot milk, add a dash of honey, filter and serve. I have used this one many times and is one of my favorite recipe for little ones.

  • From Lisa Rose Starner
    Date: 2012 03 09 - 07:19:39 +0200

    "A synovial fluid regulator shall we say?"

    ~~ I have been thinking how Mullein acts as a lymphatic and can affect synovial fluid. A while ago, I was watching the leaves of a Mullein infusion absorb the hot water and do you know what popped into my head? The jingle for the Bounty paper towel ads. {Mullein. The quicker picker upper} Insert music here.

    And does anyone else think it smells the way the inner flesh of green peppers taste?

    I do like Jim McDonald's write-up on Mullein ... worth reading if you haven't already.

  • From Katy
    Date: 2012 03 09 - 13:59:26 +0200

    Besides the good info about sacral alignment Jim McDonald wrote at the end "the need for alignment is energetic--someone who is scattered all over the place" Hmmmm

Please add your own experiences etc. in the comments!

Mullein will be in my next book, out in 2013 or so. Until then, go buy Practical Herbs if you haven't already! :-)

Also see Yellow summer flowers: Mullein - Fishing and saponins - Mullein itches - Quick fix: earache - Herbs in salves.