Mullein belongs to a large list of plants that have a long history of medicinal use and yet are widely regarded as weeds. Like dandelions and plantain, the health benefits of mullein are easily accessible since it grows abundantly in the wild.
You've probably seen mullein growing without even realizing it. It grows in all kinds of soil types and conditions, even on the side of highways.
Here's more about the benefits of mullein, how you can use it for health, and any precautions you need to know.
What Is Mullein?
Mullein is a biennial plant native to northern Africa and regions of Europe and Asia. It's now widely grown throughout the world and is often considered a common weed.
Though there are over 200 species, common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is most often used by herbalists. In the first year of growing, it will form a small, woolly rosette of leaves. The second year, mullein sends up a tall, yellow-flowing stalk that can grow up to 7 feet.
Although we often think of plants in terms of how they can benefit us as humans, mullein also has huge benefits for wildlife and the environment. It can be found growing in compacted and poor soils where other plants won't grow. Typically, mullein will improve the soil while it grows, which allows other plants to eventually return and thrive.
The roots of mullein can also take up heavy metals from the ground, effectively cleaning up contaminated soils. And the tall stalks that grow the second year attract insects that birds will feed on through the winter. Mullein is truly an all-around beneficial plant.
When it comes to human health, mullein is packed with beneficial plant compounds. The main ones include flavonoids, saponins, iridoids, glycosides, tannins, and terpenoids. Many of these are known to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties. (1)(2)
Mullein also contains mucilage and is known as a demulcent herb. This means that it's especially soothing for mucous membranes and tissues in the throat, mouth, and digestive tract.
Demulcents can also soothe tissues in the lungs and bladder, which explains mullein's long history of use for respiratory and bladder issues as well as certain inflammatory conditions. (3)
Top Benefits of Mullein
Supports Respiratory Health
Mullein has been used for respiratory conditions like spastic coughs, asthma, bronchitis, congestion, and dry coughs for thousands of years. (4)
Its mucilage content is soothing for inflamed and irritated lung tissues. Mullein has antispasmodic properties, which helps to calm spasms, and can be used as an expectorant to expel mucous from the lungs. It can also soothe sore throats. (3)
Research so far indicates that mullein tea (a traditional remedy) seems to work by reducing inflammation, which in turn helps muscles in the respiratory system to relax. (5)
Mullein is often combined with other demulcent herbs like slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, and licorice root for greater effectiveness. Try it for yourself in our Respiratory Relief tea.
Earaches and Infections
While the leaves are most often used to make a tea, mullein flowers have their own benefits. They have antiseptic and antibacterial properties and have compounds that can relieve pain. (6)
Mullein flower oil is an old remedy used for ear infections that come with colds, flus, and respiratory congestion. The oil can be warmed slightly and a few drops placed in each ear for pain-relief and to fight the infection.
A simple oil can be made by infusing the flowers in olive oil, but it's often combined with other herbs like garlic and St. John's wort. Once such combination treatment was found in a clinical trial to help children with middle-ear infections. (7)
(Note: Mullein flower oil shouldn't be used for infections caused by water entering the ear or severe infections of any kind.)
Supports Lymphatic System
Another traditional use for mullein leaves is to apply them externally to improve circulation and relieve lymphatic congestion.
Your lymphatic system is interconnected with your immune and circulatory systems and plays a huge role in regularly detoxifying your body. Mullein can be helpful when lymph nodes get swollen or there's stagnation.
Leaves can be applied as a poultice for this purpose or made into a salve that can be massaged into affected areas.
Mullein isn't typically thought of as an antiviral herb, but studies are showing it could prove to have strong antiviral properties.
A study done on over 40 plants found that common mullein had strong anti-flu activity (for influenza A). Another lab study indicated potential antiviral activity against a virus related to herpes. (8)(9)
The benefits of mullein for soothing tissues and mucous membranes makes it especially beneficial for digestion.
Demulcents help to calm the lining of your GI tract and can also thin out mucus when it gets too thick. Although mucus is good for gut lining, it can build up in the small intestine and interfere with nutrient absorption. (3)
This is why mullein has been traditionally used as a remedy for diarrhea and other digestive issues. (4)
How to Use Mullein
You can find mullein as a dried herb, tincture, and powder as well as an infused oil. It's also easy to find in the wild and to grow in your garden.
For at home use, the easiest way to use mullein is to make a tea from the leaves and/or flowers. You can use fresh mullein if it's available, but the dried herb works just as well.
- To make mullein tea, combine 1-3 teaspoons of the dried herb with 8-10 ounces of boiling water.
- Cover your infusion and let it steep for 15-20 minutes.
- Once steeped, strain out the herbs. Mullein has tiny hairs that can be irritating, so you may wish to strain though a coffee filter, especially if using the fresh leaves.
- Sweeten your tea if desired and drink as needed.
Mullein also blends well with other herbs and can be more effective when combined in a blend. For coughs and sore throats, try using mullein in this Respiratory Relief herbal tea.
Mullein has no known side effects or contraindications, but the tiny hairs on the leaves can irritate sensitive skin.
If you're harvesting mullein from the wild, don't harvest anywhere that has contaminated soil. The plant cleans heavy metals out of affected soil and will store these metals in its leaves and roots.
Mullein flower oil should not be used if the ear drum has been perforated, for any severe infections, or if the infection is caused by water (including swimmer's ear).
Mullein for Wellness
The next time you're on a walk outside, you might want to see if you can spot mullein growing anywhere. Far from being just a common plant, mullein is a valued medicinal herb with many uses and few precautions.
You can use it for respiratory support, lymphatic congestion, and to soothe digestion. Not bad for a roadside weed!