Soft, fuzzy Verbascum spp, otherwise known as herbal toilet paper, is in the Scrophulariaceae (Figwort) family. All parts of the plant-the leaves, flowers, and roots are medicinal. It is such a treat to come across the gorgeous first year basal rosette with the fuzzy leaves, as in the photo above. Mullein is a biennial, which means it lives for 2 years, and like many biennials, looks completely different the second year. That is when, in late summer it grows a long flowering spike of yellow flowers, that bloom one at a time from the bottom upward. The leaves are also much smaller the second year.
The leaves of mullein are best harvested in Autumn the first year or Spring of the second year. Care should be taken to only harvest a small amount, as mullein needs her leaves for flowering. My personal rule is to never take more than 5% of the leaves of any one plant. But with mullein you don’t need much. Only a few large leaves are needed for a family’s year supply of tincture. They can also be dried on screens so that you have some year round to make tea.
Mullein leaves have a special affinity for the respiratory system. Her soothing, demulcent action is one of my favorite choices for dry irritated lungs, especially when accompanied by a dry cough. It’s also one of my go-to herbs for chronic wheezy, hacking coughs, asthmatic bronchitis, smoker’s cough, and irritation from wildfire smoke. As a matter of fact, those of us who live in California, or anywhere that is prone to wildfires, would do well to always keep some mullein leaf on hand. It’s a great trophorestorative for any kind of weakness in the lungs, and can help tonify a worn out respiratory system. However, it is NOT my choice for upper respiratory conditions, sinuses, etc. It works deep in the lungs, and it can help to prevent infections from settling into respiratory tissue.
The leaves are also a specific for hard, impacted swollen lymph glands, and for respiratory infections with lymphatic swelling anywhere in the body.
Mullein flowers are best harvested daily, since they don’t all open at once. Make sure you leave some to go to seed! They are perhaps most well known as an old time remedy for ear infections. For this, they are infused in olive oil, sometimes with garlic and/or other herbs. I find the good old mullein-garlic combination to be ideal for most earaches and ear infections. It is definately a staple to have in the house if you have household members who are prone to ear infections. To use, simply apply 1-3 drops in affected ear. I also like to apply to both ears, since the ears are connected and the infection could potentially move from ear to ear. The only times I would NOT use it would be for swimmer’s ear, as it is a different kind of issue that would not respond well to mullein oil. Also, DO NOT use it if the eardrum is perforated. And lastly, if the infection does not show any signs of improvement after 24 hours, make sure to see your health care provider. If you would like to order some mullein-garlic Earache Oil, click here.
Mullein flowers and roots have also been used to support musculoskeletal issues such as alignment, kinked neck, sciatica, hip pain, nerve damage or pain from broken bones, misaligned joints, even arthritis. It lubricates the joints, bones, ligaments, and cartilage.
The roots also are used as a specific for adult incontinence and child bedwetting, by strengthening the trigone muscle. It can also be supportive for prostate inflammation and BPH. For urinary system support, the recommended dosage is 1/2 teaspoon of fresh root tincture in 1/8-1/4 cup water before bed and upon rising.
Mullein is considered one of the safest herbs, and there are little to no known safety issues or contraindications (with the exception of the earache oil cautions I stated earlier in this article). However, you may want to think twice before using it for toilet paper, as the soft hairs on the leaves can be irritating to the skin. For the same reason, it is good to strain tea made from the leaf very well to make sure the hairs do not irritate the throat.
Does mullein grow where you live? Now is a great time to go out and see if you can befriend this plant. Especially in the times we are currently living in, where new viruses and raging wildfires can potentially wreak havoc on the lungs, mullien is the soft and fuzzy comforting friend we could all benefit from right now.