Also known as torches, Jacob's staff, old man's flannel, candle wick plant, rag paper, blanket herb, etc.
Parts used: leaf, flower, root
Meridians/Organs affected: lungs, stomach, nervous system, urinary system
Properties: expectorant, antispasmodic, demulcent, antitussive, anodyne, analgesic, astringent, vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, germicide, diuretic, emollient, absorbant and hemostatic.
Mullein is a member of the snapdragon family. It is a biennial herb requiring 2 years to complete its full cycle. The first year a lovely florette of velvety leaves appears. The second year comes an erect stalk sometimes getting as tall as 8 feet with yellow flowers emerging on the cylindrical cone-like heads. It can be found along roadsides, in fields or any dry ground.
There are over 300 species of mullein found worldwide. The leaves can be harvested at any time and laid out on screens to dry (as they of a thicker texture it can take up to 2 weeks for them to dry out completely). The flowers are best harvested from July through August between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the dew has left them (if gathering in the morning hours).
Mullein has a long history. Homer spoke of Odysseus using the root of 'moly' (white mullein) as a protectant against the enchantments of Circe. The Romans would dip the long stalks in tallow and use them as tapers. It was also used as such in medieval funerals. Dr. Quinlan (a victorian-era physician) used mullein leaves boiled with 4 cups of milk and strained (sweetened with honey) and drunk twice daily as a treatment for tuberculosis. Hildegard of Bingen (1100's) used mullein and fennel cooked in wine as a cure for hoarseness. John Parkinson (1640) used a decoction of mullein leaves, marjoram, sage and chamomile for an external application for cramping. Early settlers would use mullein tea for cattle that had coughs and a poultice of the leaves was used by them for horses that had been injured (their hooves) during the process of shoeing.
For those caught out in the woods without adequate "supplies" the mullein leaf is often used as toilet paper. (It is very very soft). It has also been used as a diaper for infants, a liner for diapers and as a foot padding for weary walkers as it is said to relieve the pain and discomfort associated with lengthy periods of walking or being on one's feet (also said that plantain was used in a similar fashion). The leaves were also used as lamp wicks before cotton came around. The Native American indians would use the dried flower stalks dipped in tallow as torches (I have done this experiment myself with some success as a torch, burned for 45 minutes with 2 of them wrapped together dipped in beeswax and coconut oil) and would use the seeds (which look like little specs of black pepper) as a narcotic on fish (this can only be used in small ponds or in very slow moving water). The seeds would put the fish in a stupor so they would float to the top and could be picked up for food. Roman women would use the flowers to make yellow hair dye and soap made from the ashes of mullein was purported to turn gray hair back to one's natural color.
Mullein has been used since ad infinitum for respiratory complaints. The leaves and flowers have been used in tea form for chest colds, coughs, bronchitis, asthma, dysentery, diarrhea, kidney infections, etc. The root has been made into a tea for cramps, lymphatic congestion, to tone the bladder and stimulate urination. Tea has even been made from the stalks to treat fevers and migraine headaches. Even Dioscoredes felt it was important enough to include in his first-century herbal, 'De Materia Medica'. The leaves were also often used in poultices for ulcers, hemorrhoids, boils, tumors and more. The flowers were soaked in oil to make ear drops for earaches and to kill ear mites and as a rub for rheumatic joints.
The chopped dried leaves have been smoked to relieve asthma, fevers and spasmodic coughing. However, there is some controversy here. Some authorities say it is not recommended to smoke the leaves as they contain tannins and coumarins while others say it is not harmful whatsoever. It has been used for hundreds of years in that capacity with no ill effects but as a cautionary move one should not use it for lengthy periods of time in such a way just to be safe. The native americans would smoke it to stop bleeding in the lungs and as a tea internally for bleeding of the bowels, swollen glands, hay fever, pneumonia, etc. Topically the Indians used the leaves and flowers for insect bites and to remove warts. The seeds are considered toxic so ingestion of them is not recommended. Mountain healers used mullein flowers, vinegar and Epsom salts to wash wounds due to recluse spider bites.
Whatever the case may be, it is clear that mullein is a valuable herb and deserves a spot in the medicine cabinet. Dr. John Christopher said of mullein, "It is the only herb known to man that has remarkable narcotic properties without being poisonous or harmful." All the more reason to keep it around. As is customary with my posts I have listed below some interesting links for mullein.