Herbalism

Mullein: A Friend for Fire Season and Beyond


It’s my personal opinion that everyone in the western so-called “United States” would do well to get to know and love mullein. This plant may be just what so many of us need in this time of fire, smoke, and pressure on the respiratory system. Recently in my consultation practice, my mutual aid work, and my personal life, mullein has been called for over and over. It took this as a sign that it’s a great time to talk more widely about this plant.

What you see below is a full materia medica entry on mullein, referring to how I know it best and how I personally use it, as well as ways I have read about other herbalists using it. This entry was originally posted on my Patreon with an accompanying podcast episode for my $3/month and up patrons. In the podcast episode, I go more in-depth on this entry and talk a bit more specifically about fire season. I also posted in my Patreon’s community Dsicord server about the process of harvesting and drying mullein for tea. If you’re interested in seeing what other goodies my patrons receive, check that out here.

Mullein is a plant that I full-heartedly love. It’s helped me find so much expansion and grace within my own body, and I’ve seen it do the same for others, both in the short term and over long periods of restorative healing. Please read on and experiment with what calls to you!

Mullein, Verbascum thapsus

Scrophulariaceae, Figwort family

Where it Grows: Temperate climates, compacted/burned soil, sand/gravelly soil. Ranges from high desert Arizona to Canada. Found across what’s known as the US, some states have it listed as invasive (it’s not native but was introduced, likely from Europe). I typically find it in high coastal prairie zones where it’s getting a lot of sun. It seems to like disturbed soil and will pop up in gardens as a weed. 

Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, and roots are all used separately. 

Harvesting Guidelines: A great plant to weed-rescue whenever it pops up in gardens or lawns. These plants are biennial and some herbalists recommend that if you’re harvesting leaves only, and not the whole plant, that you gather leaves in late spring and summer (presumably before the plant is in full flower) from second year plants to avoid damaging first year plants by taking too many leaves and stunting them. Only second-year mullein produces a flower stalk, first year mullein is simply a basal rosette of leaves. 

Constituents: Flavonoids, mucilage, saponins, tannins, volatile oils

Mullein spire in bloom!

Common Preparations and Dosages: 

  • Tea made from the leaves is most effective for respiratory challenges. Strain through a cloth to get all the little fuzzy hairs out, otherwise you will end up with an irritated throat
    • The fuzzies can also irritate your skin and nose so do be careful with these
    • Mullein leaves take a long time to dry so be thorough with them to prevent mold.
    • Overnight infusion: put 4 tbsp of mullein leaf into a quart jar and pour over boiling water. Let this infuse for at least 8 hours or overnight. Strain out the plant material through a cloth and enjoy. Combine with honey if desired for taste or sore throat issues. Drink a quart a day as a tonic. 
    • Another method for making mullein tea: pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp of dried leaf and infuse 10-15 minutes. Strain through a cloth and drink. Prepare and drink this up to 3 times a day. 
  • Can incorporate mullein into an herbal face steam for a direct application to the lungs. In a similar manner, mullein is often a part of herbal smoke blends. 
  • Apply whole leaves or poultices to areas with muscle spasms, is sometimes also applied to broken bones or similar injuries to be used similar to comfrey – knitting the tissues back together
  • Mullein flower and garlic ear oil for ear infections

Energetics: Moistening, cooling, and relaxing

Tastes: Green, tastes like plant

Actions: demulcent, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, mild anti-spasmodic, lung tonic

Specific Indications: 

  • Leaves are very useful for respiratory infections. Considered specific for bronchitis characterized by a hard cough and soreness. Reduces inflammation while stimulating fluid production, thus allowing for expectoration (coughing up phlegm). 
  • Helps allay anxiety associated with not breathing. Folks who carry this fear may tend toward tightness in the chest and lungs, mullein can help alleviate this. It can also be helpful for people whose throats are closing from anxiety. 
  • Excellent tonic to the lungs to boost overall respiratory health and function. Some have success with beginning daily infusions of mullein a few months before fire season and notice they are less affected by the air quality. 
  • Topically apply leaves onto spasming muscles to calm them
  • Daily overnight infusions of mullein is one of the most commonly recommended and highly successful treatments for asthma. Inhaling smoke of mullein leaves during the onset of an asthma attack while focusing on lengthening the exhale can quell an asthma attack. 
  • Root tones trigones/center of pelvis, indicated for nighttime incontinence, swelling of ovaries due to its affinity for gonadal tissue, and root is also specific for low back pain and inflammation and spinal issues
    • This is a wonderful Doctrine of Signatures moment – the roots look quite bone-like
  • Flowers are sedative and antimicrobial
    • Mullein flower oil can be heated and used for ear infections
    • Mullein flowers are great for wound healing (highly vulnerary) and are good for acute infections
  • Flower or root oil is indicated topically for testicular inflammation

Combinations:

  • Quick ear oil: mullein flowers, garlic tincture, and hydrogen peroxide (this will foam, that’s ok). 
  • Combine with lobelia, a low-dose herb and powerful antispasmodic, for asthma and panic attacks
  • Combine mullein tea with yerba santa flower essence or honey, this is also helpful for a variety of respiratory infections or anxiety-related difficulties

Contraindications and Drug Interactions: Seeds contain the insecticide and fish poison rotenone. Make sure the herb is not contaminated with seeds (tiny black balls). 

References:

“Mullein,” Western New York Urology Associates

Windfall Herbal Studies Lecture, 2019. 

The Gift of Healing Herbs, Robin Rose Bennet

Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman

And personal experience 🙂

Disclaimer: I am a folk herbalist, not a doctor. All information discussed is solely for educational purposes and is not meant to treat, diagnose, or cure any ailments. Anything you do to take care of your health is your decision and your responsibility.

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