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Mullein

Botanical name: Verbascum thapsus

Photo

© Eric Yarnell

Parts used and where grown

Mullein is native to much of Europe and Asia and is naturalized to North America. There are over 360 species of Verbascum with V. thapsus, V. phlomides, and V. densiflorum mentioned most often in herbal texts. The leaves and flowers are both used medicinally.

Mullein has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
1Star

Asthma

Bronchitis

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Common cold/sore throat

Cough

Ear infections

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

Mullein leaves and flowers are classified in traditional herbal literature as expectorants (promotes the discharge of mucus) and demulcents (soothes irritated mucous membranes). Historically, mullein has been used by herbalists as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion.1 Some herbal texts extend the therapeutic use to pneumonia and asthma.2 Due to its mucilage content, mullein has also been used topically by herbalists as a soothing emollient for inflammatory skin conditions and burns.

Active constituents

Mullein contains approximately 3% mucilage and small amounts of saponins and tannins.3 The mucilaginous constituents are thought to be responsible for the soothing actions on mucous membranes. The saponins may be responsible for the expectorant actions of mullein.4 Human clinical trials are lacking to confirm the use of mullien for any condition, however.

How much is usually taken?

A tea of mullein is made by pouring 1 cup (250 ml) of boiling water over 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 grams) of dried leaves or flowers and steeping for ten to fifteen minutes. The tea can be drunk three to four times per day. For the tincture, 1/4–3/4 teaspoon (1–4 ml) is taken three to four times per day. As a dried product, 1/2–3/4 teaspoon (3–4 grams) is used three times per day.5 Mullein is sometimes combined with other demulcent or expectorant herbs when used to treat coughs and bronchial irritation. For ear infections, some doctors apply an oil extract directly in the ear. If the eardrum has ruptured, nothing should be put directly in the ear. Therefore, a qualified healthcare professional should always do an ear examination before mullein oil is placed in the ear.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Mullein is generally safe except for rare reports of skin irritation. There are no known reasons to avoid its use during pregnancy or breast-feeding.

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with mullein.

References:

1. Hoffman D. The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1988, 67.

2. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal, vol 2. New York: Dover Publications, 1971, 562–6.

3. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994, 18–9.

4. Tyler VE. The Honest Herbal, 3d ed. Binghamton, NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1993, 219–20.

5. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 173.

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