Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Magical Mullein

Verbascum thapsus (Great or Common Mullein) is a species of native to Europe, northern Africa, and Asia. It was introduced into the Americas and Australia and is an excellent plant for a beginning wildcrafter to study. For one thing, there is a LOT of mullein, so there are no fears of harvesting it away.  Second, it is quite easy to identify.

Identifying Mullein:

Seedlings:  Cotyledons are spatula-shaped.  First true leaves have many soft hairs and are oval in outline with only slightly wavy margins.  Subsequent leaves are also densely hairy and have more wavy margins.

Leaves:  Leaves initially develop as a basal rosette during the first year of growth and then occur alternately along the flowering stem during the second year of growth.  All leaves are covered in hairs, to the point that leaves are most often described as being 'woolly'.  Rosette leaves are oblong in outline, ranging from 6 to18 inches in length.  Leaves become progressively smaller up the flowering stem.

Stems: Erect, unbranched, occurring during the second year of growth.  Stems may reach as much as 6 feet in height and are also densely hairy.Roots:  A taproot and a fibrous root system.

Flowers:  Many flowers occur in a dense spike at the end of the flowering stem.  These spikes may reach as much as 20 inches in length.  Flowers are yellow in color, approximately 1 inch in diameter, and consist of five petals.Fruit:  An oval capsule, approximately 6 mm in diameter.

Identifying Characteristics:   The rosette growth habit, large 'woolly' leaves and stems, and flowering stems with many yellow flowers are all characteristics that help in the identification of common mullein.  

Harvesting and Drying

The first year, the mullein plant grows a fairly large rosette consisting of large, light green, soft, flannel-like leaves.

The second year it grows a long straight stalk that is usually four to six feet tall with small yellow flowers towards its top.

Mullein leaves are best harvested in the summer of the second year as the plant is growing its stalk. Bundle and hang the leaves upside down to dry.

Harvest the buds and flowers when in bloom (Usually between July and September) and use them fresh or dried.

Roots can be gathered before the stalk grows, sliced and dried.


The dried parts can be stored in jars in a cool place. 

The leaves can be left fairly whole, or crumbled.

Sowing Mullein

Mullein can be grown from its tiny ripe seeds. 
Sow it in the fall. 
It likes dry, rocky waste soil and is drought tolerant.

However, even though it is found in dry, barren areas, mullein will also thrive in moist soil. It is easy to grow and thrives in gardens.

The seeds are very tiny, as this photo shows. 
You can harvest the seed in the winter and sow it early in the spring.


The large leaves can be harvested and hung up in the shade to dry, then smoked to relieve chest congestion. You can add it to a smoking combination and smoke in a pipe or roll it in paper. In a pinch, you can burn it in a pie plate and inhale the smoke. It breaks up congestion in the chest so it can be coughed up. A tea from the dried leaves works the same way, but not as quickly.

Mullein is best known as a respiratory tonic. Native Americans used the leaves of the mullein plant to ease respiratory discomfort. Mullein tea is also an effective way of treating conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and allergies. It is also effective in treating sore throats and coughs.

The leaves and flowers activate lymph circulation in the neck and chest and can be useful for mumps, glandular swellings and earaches. Mullein tones and soothes the mucous membranes, reduces inflammation and encourages healthy fluid production in the lungs. By encouraging mucus production, Mullein protects the membranes from absorbing allergens and encourages expectoration.

It is anti-spasmodic and antibiotic. Use it for hay fever, emphysema, colds, flu, hoarseness, bronchitis, whooping cough and asthma. Mullein leaves can be used with Uva Ursi and a little Licorice as a smoking mixture to relax spasmodic coughing during chest infections and asthma. It's preferred to use smoking mixtures only for smokers.

Mullein's anti-bacterial properties make it effective in treating infections. It has even been used to treat tuberculosis as it inhibits mycobacterium, the bacteria which causes the disease.  Last year, in an article listed in PubMed titled "What's in a Name? Can Mullein Weed Beat TB where Modern Drugs are Failing" authors Eibhlin McCarthy and Jim M. O'Mahony of the Cork Institute of Technology in Ireland reported:

"Extracts of the mullein leaf have also been shown in laboratory studies to possess antitumor, antiviral, antifungal, and - most interestingly for the purpose of this paper - antibacterial properties."

The authors also observed that mullein had been shown in trials to significantly improve ear pain. It rivals a popular pharmaceutical in controlling Klebsiella pneumoniae, and it is reported that many of mullein's historical uses have proven to be true.

Mullein also has anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties. A mullein poultice soothes skin irritations, such as rashes, boils, and even chilblains. A poultice can also be used for bruises and to relieve arthritic and rheumatic conditions. The herb's anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties make mullein compresses an ideal treatment for hemorrhoids and cold sores.

Mullein relieves digestive disorders, such as diarrhea and stomach pains. Its anti-spasmodic properties relieve stomach cramps. Mullein oil derived from the plant's flowers can be used to treat swollen glands and earaches.

In addition, mullein:

*has a calming effect and can be used as a sleep aid.
*relieves migraine pain.
*supports proper functioning of the thyroid gland.

Mullein has no serious recorded side effects. However, taking it in excess can result in stomach upset, and it is also prudent to lightly scrub the thin hairs off the plant leaves as they can result in irritation in some people.

Making Tea


Boil 1 tablespoon of dried leaves or root (or for a sweeter tea, the fresh or dried flowers) in 1 cup of water for 5-10 minutes, then strain through a coffee filter to remove the hairs, if using the leaves. 

You can drink the tea, hot or cold.
Any excess tea can be stored in the refrigerator for future use.

Mullein Tincture

Prepared as a tincture, Mullein flowers act to resolve swellings and ease the accompanying pain. A combination of Red Root and Mullein flowers has been used to treat an abscess in the ear canal, and the pain and swelling were quickly resolved.  The flower tincture used internally is also of aid in treating swellings, and acts as a local anesthetic.The use of Mullein flower tincture to relieve swellings is also due to its lymphatic actions, and among the various parts that can be used, may offer the most pain relieving qualities.

Mullein Oil

An infused oil of Mullein flowers is perhaps one of the first remedies to think of in treating an ear infection, easing pain and speeding recovery time. The oil is simple to prepare, and I'll post a recipe as promised.
Mullein flower oil is often combined with infused Garlic oil (which is antibacterial and antiviral), and there are few remedies as effective for ear infections.  It can be used to treat ear mites in animals. 

Mullein Root

Mullein Root is an incredibly useful remedy. In addition to its effects on the lymphatic system, it is an excellent remedy for treating urinary incontinence and loss of urinary control due to a swollen prostate because it tones and strengthens the trigone sphincter at the base of the bladder. Northern California herbalist Christa Sinadinos elaborates: "Mullein root is valuable as a bladder tonifying agent for the treatment of urinary incontinence (loss of urine with out warning.) It strengthens and improves the tone the trigone muscle (a triangular area at the base of the bladder) and significantly enhances bladder function. It has soothing diuretic properties; it increases the volume of urination, while decreasing the frequency of urination.  Mullein root also has mild astringent properties which reduce inflammation in the mucosa of the bladder.  It does not irritate or over stimulate bladder or kidney function.  Mullein root can be used as a long term tonic for individuals with urinary incontinence, recurring bladder infections, interstitial cystitis, and benign prostatic hypertrophy."  Mullein Root has been shown to be exceptional for Bell's Palsy and is useful in other cases of facial nerve pain, along with other useful herbs for facial neuralgia like Saint John's Wort and Jamaican Dogwood.

Jim McDonald, herbalist, says, "I also use Mullein root quite frequently to facilitate "proper alignment". It may be that there are broken bones I need to be sure line up, or it could be a spinal misalignment.  These are applications I picked up from Matthew Wood, though he uses Mullein leaves, saying, “It has a moistening, lubricating effect on the synovial membranes… so that it is hydrating to the spine and joints. It is often indicated in back injuries. People think they are untreatable and incurable, but an increase the synovial fluids will make the spine more pliable and comfortable. The vertebra will slip back into place more readily, pain and inflammation will decrease and the condition will get better."

He continues, "I can personally attest to Mullein’s usefulness in treating spinal injuries, as I’ve used it for years.  The first time I ever used it, I woke up with my back out.  I couldn't stand up straight, and while my mouth was saying, "Ow, ow, ow..." within me I kept hearing "Mullein root, Mullein root, Mullein root...".  I drove out to a field where I knew it grew, and searched for it under the snow (Mullein's fuzzy leaves insulate it and it usually overwinters).  I found some, and as I was digging it up I "heard" Mullein root stores up energy the entire first year of its life to put forth its strong, straight yet flexible flower stalk; and using it gives us access to that stored energy.  I chopped up a root, made tea, took a sip then a breath and was completely better.

A year or so after that (in which time I'd used the root a few more times, always to more or less immediate results), I suffered the rather dreadful "slipped disc" while, when changing a tire on the side of a dirt road my jack slipped and I jumped back away from the falling car with a heavy tire in my arms.  Along with chiropractic, I used the rather agonizing experience to figure out how best to treat this condition.  I ended up blending together a formula with Solomon’s Seal, Mullein Root, Horsetail and Goldenseal to excellent results (I daresay…).  This was created not so much as a pain reliever, but to restore strength and integrity to the disc itself.  To address the attendant muscle spasms (which were the worst part, in terms of outright agony), I used a combination of Black Cohosh and Arnica tinctures, taken in frequent small doses to help ease the sensitivity & reactivity of the muscles.  The results were excellent.  I could literally feel the disc growing stronger and the muscles relearning how to be relaxed.  Even now, after a few years, if I overdo it and feel even a twinge of sensitivity in the disc, a few doses usually completely removes the discomfort.  It's truly kick ass stuff."

The root can be prepared either as an infusion or taken in small doses as a tincture. It can be used fresh or dried.

Mullein Garlic Oil

Virgin Olive Oil
Glass Bottle with Dropper


You can increase the antibiotic potency by combining the mullein flowers with crushed garlic cloves in a 1 to 1 ratio.

Crush the garlic with the back of a knife.  Keep the skin on the garlic after crushing. 

Using fresh mullein flowers, infuse the garlic and mullein flowers in organic olive oil with plenty of oil to completely cover the mixture. 

Cover the jar with cheesecloth to allow water to evaporate and set a sunny location for 3 days. 

It is important not to use a quick, high heat method for this oil, as high temps with destroy the properties. 

Strain the oil after 3 days, and let set overnight to allow the garlic juice and any remaining water to settle to the bottom of the jar. 

Strain again, then bottle in clean, dark bottles, and store in a cool, dry place. 

This oil will keep for about 1 year. 

Use only a few drops, 3 times daily for ear infections.

Spiritual or Energetic Uses:

Mullein is one of the best spiritual allies when there is a need for energetic alignment.  When a person's energy is scattered all over the place, and they need to focus and direct their energies, mullein can be a great help. A few drops of oil or tincture rubbed into pulse points during the day is sufficient.

Various Native Americans used mullein to return people to their right mind. The Hopi mixed the leaves with osnomodium to be used as a smoke by crazy people and those who had been betwitched. The Navajo wrapped the leaves in a corn husk to be smoked to help a mind return if it was lost, and the Potowatami smudged unconcscious people with the leaves to help them return to consciousness. 

Mullein is useful in centering the spirit and add it to the pipe smoked as an aid to astral work.

The planetary correspondences of mullein are not certain.  From the Alchemy Works website:

Many disagree about the planetary correspondence of this magick herb. Agrippa said it belonged to Mercury. The leaves do have a high concentration of aluminum, a Mercury metal, and in the past this herb was given to affect the mind, for instance, to bring back people who were unconscious or who were mentally ill. Culpeper thought it was a Saturn herb, on account of its medicinal actions. As a biennial, it is also a slow herb (slowness is a Saturnian quality),  taking a year to produce a rosette of leaves and only flowering in the second year. The seeds likewise show a Saturnian slowness in their long viability - up to 35 years. It also has a Saturnian love for borders, growing along roads, train tracks, or on the edge of woodlands, and for areas that are rejected for agricultural purposes ("waste lands"). Some argue that it is a Fire herb, because its dry leaves make an excellent tinder and it gets one its common names, hag's taper, from the practice of dipping the stalks in fat to make a quickie torch (by the way, the "hag" in "hag's taper" was originally the word "hedge"). Finally, the leaves contain iron and the fuzz that covers them is a softer version of prickliness, so this can also be viewed as a Mars herb. Indeed, it has played a part in various Mars-ruled activities, such as hunting: Navajo hunters rubbed a tea of mullein leaf on themselves and their horses for strength.
Magical Uses
Pliny the Elder describes mullein in his Naturalis Historia and it is linked to witches and witchcraft.  In ancient Greece, Ulysses defended himself from Circe's magic with mullein. In the old days in France, people would pass sprigs of mullein through a fire on Midsummer.  Cattle were passed through mullein smoke in order to protect them from sickness caused by sorcery. Putting mullein under the butter churn could bring back butter that had been witched away. European travellers carried mullein or stuffed it into their shoes to protect them from attacks by wild animals (and also to make walking more comfortable). Dream pillows can be stuffed with mullein to protect against nightmares. Mullein can be mixed with dill, salt, and fennel and sprinkled around haunted areas to repel malicious spirits or ghosts. In Hoodoo and Santeria, mullein is sometimes used as a substitution for graveyard dirt in some recipes.

Mullein can be used to see manifestations of spirits, to see into the otherworld, and to commune with the spirits and deities who dwell there.  It is used for divination and dream work or a combination of the two (prophetic dreaming). Mullein protects you in your sleep helping to combat both evil spirits and nightmares. As it helps one to fall asleep when ingested, Mullein makes an excellent tea to encourage prophetic dreams and as an aid in lucid dreaming or astral travel while asleep.

Dreamer’s Tea
2 parts Mullein flowers
1 part Poppy flowers
1 part Mugwort
2 parts Spearmint

As an OUTDOOR incense for manifesting spirits. Noted by Cornelius Agrippa in his work, The Philosophy of Natural Magic.  This should ONLY BE USED OUTDOORS due to its poisonous ingredients.

“Also, it is said, that fume made of the root of the reedy herb sagapen, with the juice of hemlock and henbane, and the herb tapsus barbatus, red sanders, and black poppy, makes spirits and strange shapes appear; and if smallage be added to them, the fume chaseth away spirits from any place and destroys their visions.” 

Agrippa’s Spirit Suffumigation
Asofoetida or Galbanum resin
Hemlock juice (substitute with anise, angelica leaf,)
Henbane, dried leaves
Mullein, dried leaves
Red Sandalwood powder
Black Poppy Seeds

Mullein Torches
The dried stems can be dipped into wax or suet to make torches.  Greeks fashioned mullein fibers into lamp wicks or used the dried leaves, and Romans dipped the whole head of the plant into tallow and carried this natural torch in funeral possessions 

More Information:
Mullein Torches

Mullein as Piscicide.

Mullein seeds contain several compounds (saponins, glycosides, coumarin, rotenone) that cause breathing problems in fish, and have been widely used as piscicide for fishing. Historically plants with piscicidal properties have been used to bring fish to the surface of the water and make them easier to catch. In the US, rotenone's use is restricted if the fish are to be taken for food. Most plant-based piscicides do not harm mammals; instead they damage the gills of fish.

Mullein also was brought to the United States as a useful piscicide (fish poison). The seeds containing most of the active ingredients.  Aristotle recorded this use in his Historia Animalium. Stream fishermen throughout Europe and Asia, particularly in Germany and Britain, used mullein seeds as a piscicide for centuries - even though Frederick II (1194-1250), King of Germany, outlawed fish poisoning as early as 1212 A.D.

Appalachian settlers, who viewed conventional fishing as less manly than hunting, occasionally used mullein as an indirect way to supplement their diet. One old North Carolina resident had this to say about his German forefathers, who immigrated in the 1720s: "They'd heard 'bout the new land 'cross the waters 'n decided to bring thangs that'd help 'em git a start. Stinging fish was one easy way of gittin' food at first, so feltwort seeds were brung 'long".

Using a piscicide is illegal in most states and should only be used in case of emergency.  

Fire Making
The dried stalk can also be dried as a spindle for making fire either by hand or bow drill.  Here are a couple of blog telling how this is done. You can find more on the internet:

Using Mullein To Make Fire

Mullein Bow Drill

Dying with Mullein
Both leaves and flowers are used. The leaves mixed with copper make a lovely green.  The flowers provide dyes of bright yellow or green, and have been used for hair dye. In ancient Rome, women used mullein flowers to give their hair yellow highlights.  
The internet is loaded with articles about dying with wild plants.

Folk Names:
Aaron's rod, Adam's flannel, beggar's blanket, beggar's flannel, beggar's stalk, big taper, blanket herb, blanket leaf, bullock's lungwort, candlewick plant, clot, clown's lungwort, cow's lungwort, cuddy's lungs, devil's-tobacco, duffle, feltwort, flannel leaf, flannel plant, fluffweed, graveyeard candles, great mullein, hag's taper, hare's beard, hedge-taper, ice leaf, Jacob's staff, Jupiter's staff, lungwort, lus mor [great herb], miner's candle, mullein, mullein dock, old man's flannel, Our Lady's flannel, Quaker rouge, rag paper, shepherd's club, shepherd's staff, St. Peter's staff, torches, torchwort, velvet dock, velvet plant, white man's-footsteps, wild ice leaf, witch's candles, witch's taper, woolen, and wooly mullein.
Explore on Your Own!

So now you know a bit more about Mullein.  

Grab a bag, a blade, and go explore! 
Harvest some mullein. 
Make some mullein oil and tincture.
Dry some leaves and roots for future use. 

This plant is a wonderful place to start.

Blessed Be!
Rowan of Oakmist

    1 comment:

    1. Very informative, I had no idea! When I went for a walk today, saw a bunch of these in a field and went home to get a shovel. They not only look great next to the house, but now seems i can benefit more than just looking at them. Thanks