Since antiquity, mankind has used the velvety mullein plant for many purposes. From Roman times, the stem- stripped of the leaves and flowers and dipped in tallow- was carried as a torch in religious processions. Why not make a giant torch eh? Well, they are smoky, stinky, and tend to drip hot flaming bits everywhere …… Perfect for a cave? Maybe.
Mullein was known in Greek as Flego and Fluma, that is, “to set on fire.” According to one writer, “it served as a wick to put into lamps to burn.” The leaves were rolled and dried and used as wicks for oil lamps and candles, and made excellent tinder.
John Parkinson, a seventeenth-century herbalist, “used the stalks dipped in suet whether to burn at funerals or otherwise, and so likewise the English name High Taper, used in the same manner as a taper or torch.”
To me, mullein is an awkwardly beautiful, tall fuzzy plant with sweet smelling yellow flowers and typically blooms from March to November. The flowers are fragrant and taste sweet, and the leaves, even though a bit bitter, are still wonderfully useful. Apart from its medicinal use, I love mullein for its ornamental purpose in the garden; it attracts a
wide variety of pollinators, including bees, flies, and butterflies.
Mullein is widely available in the wild, and is easily identified by its spike of yellow flowers and huge, sometimes over a foot long, leaves. When you find them – the leaves, flowers, and roots of this plant are edible and easy to dry, and may be used to make your own herbal medicines.
Mullein has long been valued as a superior medicinal herb and the Greek physician-herbalist Dioscorides was one of the first to recommend its use in curing diseases of the lungs, and it remained thus employed for more than 1,800 years. The leaves, root, and the flowers are anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, nervine, and vulnerary.
What an amazingly useful plant…right? Well, Mullein leaf is a good respiratory remedy and traditionally used as a tea for treating a wide range of chest complaint including cough. When combined with water, the fiber in mullein produces a slippery substance called mucilage, which coats and soothes the throat and intestines. It combines well with other expectorants such as coltsfoot and thyme. Mullein helps reduce inflammation while stimulating fluid production and thus facilitating expectoration. It is considered a specific in bronchitis where there is a hard cough with soreness. Its anti-inflammatory and demulcent properties indicate its use in inflammation of the trachea and associated conditions.
The dried leaves are sometimes smoked to relieve the irritation of the respiratory mucus membranes an will ease the hacking cough of consumption. In our own country, several native American tribes used Mullein to cure chest diseases. Since the plant was not native to America, this usage was probably received by them (no doubt along with the lung ailments it was said to cure) from the early settlers. The Navajos called Mullein “big tobacco.” They mixed it with regular tobacco and smoked the combination to relieve coughing spasms. It was also believed that this remedy would cure simple mental diseases, the use of evil language, and the thinking of evil thoughts.
But for me….I like it in tea. I like to steep a couple teaspoons of dried mullein in a cup of hot water for an infusion to treat cough, congestion, or diarrhea. You can drink three cups of hot mullein tea a day until symptoms disappear, or store the tea in the refrigerator.
Disclaimer – The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. You should not use the information in this article for self-diagnosis or to replace any prescriptive medication. You should consult with a health care professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem, suffer from allergies, are pregnant or nursing.
Jessica Morgan, M.H.
Did you find this information helpful? If you did, consider donating.