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Common Mullein

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

An herbal monologue about Verbascum thapsus


Overview:

Common mullein, or wooly mullein, is native to northern Africa, Europe, and Asia (Mahr, S.). Used in the United States since the mid-1700s, it thrived so well leading people to believe it was native to the land by 1818. Mullein today is regularly grown and distributed in the United States and Canada, and its season typically lasts 140 days in the summer months. The name Verbascum derives from the Latin word barbascum, or beard in English, earning its title for its beard-like filaments (Riaz, M., et al., 2013). Thaspus, however, has an unclear origin though it is commonly believed the word derives from the Isle of Sicilian Thaspos, where the plant was gathered during ancient times. The term “Thaspos'' is a Greek word that refers to the yellow flowers of the common mullein plant. Mullen, derived from the Latin term mollis, is used interchangeably with the current term woolen.


Description:

The plant is an herbaceous biennial with deep tap roots, whose flowers die by the end of the season, but other parts and roots thrive close to and underground between seasons (Mahr, S.). During the first year of growth, the stalk of the plants can reach between 4-12 inches tall, and in the second year, between 5-10 feet tall. The flowers, yellow in color, have a dense placement that carries both male and female reproductive organs (Riaz, M., et al., 2013). The yellow flowers have five petals, five sepals, five stamens, and two-celled ovaries. There is a capsule that is considered the fruit that has a star shape and splits into two valves once mature. The capsule houses the seeds of the plant that are typically brown in color and oval-shaped with or without distinctive vesicles. The stem of the plant is very erect and can range between five-thirty centimeters (about 11.81 in) in length, with alternating leaves.



Primary Uses:

Common mullein is a medicinal plant that is primarily used to address inflammatory diseases, asthma, pulmonary issues, spasmodic coughs, migraine headaches, and diarrhea (Turker, A. U., Gurel, E., 2005). It is also associated with spiritual beliefs and was used to keep away evil spirits and terrors (Riaz, M., et al., 2013). Other non-medicinal ancient uses of the plant include setting fire to it and using it as a torch or candle. The commercial use and knowledge of the plant has increased over the years although medicinal use of the plant, since ancient times. Today you can find dried leaves of the plant, oral capsules, flower oil, and alcohol extracts for usage/consumption.


Both the leaves and the flowers of the plant are anti-inflammatory, analgesic, spasmolytic, diuretic, antiseptic, emollient, expectorant, and vulnerary, which means there is a vast number of ways to incorporate the plant into one's lifestyle. Formulations using fresh leaves can be used for long-standing headaches, and ointments can be made using the leaves to apply to burns and earaches. A poultice of the leaves can also be used as a topical agent to aid the healing of wounds, ulcers, piles, and even tumors. Infusing the flowers in olive oil can create helpful drops for earaches. Some infuse the flowers in hot water for hair dye.


Common Dosage and Standard Preparations:

  • Tea infusion & tincture

*Consult with an herbalist prior to consuming common mullein, as dosage depends on the distinct qualities of each individual.

Chemistry:

Common mullein contains many chemical constituents including vitamin C, minerals, saponins, iridoid and phenylethanoid glycosides, and flavonoids (Riaz, M., et al., 2013). The vast quantity of constituents allows the plant to serve many different purposes when consumed. The flavonoids in the plant have anticancer and antioxidative properties as well as managing oxidative stress. The saponins in the plant are antiviral and antimicrobial, making them very helpful for infections.


Pharmacological Actions:

There are many pharmacological actions of common mullein, and it is well known for its ability to improve symptoms of cancer, heart disease, and stroke (Riaz, M., et al., 2013). The chemical constituents in the plant help neutralize the side effects of diseases caused by free radicals like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The plant also has in-vitro antiviral properties that can protect against herpes simplex viruses, staphylococcus epidermidis, staphylococcus aureus, E-coli, and influenza (Rodriguez-Fragoso, L., et al., 2008).


Mechanisms of Action:

There are multiple ways common mullein works in the body. The first way is as an expectorant which is a substance that thins mucus and allows it to be coughed up easier, making the plant useful for lung infections (Kaputk., 2022). Mullein also relieves inflammation because the leaves contain mucilage. The mucilage coats the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract with a film that reduces inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties can also be used for irritated skin and to relieve pain. Overall, mullein draws moisture from other parts of the body to help lubricate the lungs and loosen mucus, meaning it wouldn’t be as beneficial to someone who is already running dry, or best when paired with other proper hydration strategies.


Adverse Effects:

While there are no known long-term side effects of the use of common mullein, there have been some reports of contact dermatitis when using the plant (Mullein. PeaceHealth). Mullein is also not recommended for ingestion by women who are pregnant or nursing, people taking diabetic medications, and those on diuretics (Indigo Herbs., 2022). Mullein leaves contain rotenone which can be used as a pesticide and coumarin which can prevent blood from clotting (Verbascum thaspus.-L., 2009).


Drug Interactions & Contraindications:

If you are taking medications, consult with your primary care physician or an herbalist to determine the safety of using this plant. As previously mentioned, mullein can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis in isolated cases.

References


Ali, N., Ali Shah, S.W., Shah, I. et al. Anthelmintic and relaxant activities of Verbascum Thapsus Mullein. BMC Complement Altern Med 12, 29 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-12-29


Delva, F. G. (2003, July). Medical Attributes of Verbascum thapsus - Mullein. Medical attributes of Verbascum thapsus - common mullein. https://klemow.wilkes.edu/Verbascum.html


Indigo Herbs. (2022, August 30). Mullein benefits. Indigo Herbs. https://www.indigo-herbs.co.uk/natural-health-guide/benefits/mullein


Kaputk. (2023, January 30). 4 ways mullein benefits your lungs. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/mullein-benefits/




Riaz, M., Zia-Ul-Haq, M., & Jaafar, H. Z. E. (2013). Common mullein, pharmacological and chemical aspects. Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia. https://www.scielo.br/j/rbfar/a/ysw95KyRfvgpNXtzWnqqTFh/#:~:text=This%20medicinal%20herb%20contains%20various,both%20humans%20and%20animals%20aliments.


Rodriguez-Fragoso, L., Reyes-Esparza, J., Burchiel, S. W., Herrera-Ruiz, D., & Torres, E. (2008). Risks and benefits of commonly used herbal medicines in Mexico. Toxicology and applied pharmacology, 227(1), 125–135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.taap.2007.10.005


Turker, A. U., & Gurel, E. (2005). Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus L.): recent advances in research. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 19(9), 733–739. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.1653

Verbascum thaspus.-L. Pfaf Plant Search. (2009, April 11). https://pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Verbascum%2Bthapsus



**This article contains statements that have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information contained is not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease. Consult your doctor/herbalist before taking herbal preparations, especially if you are pregnant or have a preexisting health condition.**

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