Mullein is a old world native in the Scrophulariaceae family commonly found growing roadside worldwide. It is recognizable in it’s first year by a fuzzy rosette of light green, tongue-shaped, deccurrent leaves, and its solitary, fibrous stem with a cylindrical spike of yellow sweet scented flowers during it’s second year. On this spike of flowers, each flower is only open for one given day at a time, and only self pollinate if they are not visited by a pollinating insect. It is a hardy biennial that grows worldwide in temperate climates, preferring lightly sandy soils in full sun, although it will tolerate many other conditions. It grows easily from seed, and is such a prolific self-sower it is considered an invasive and noxious weed in some areas. It typically requires winter dormancy to germinate. During the first year, you can harvest up to a third of the plant’s leaves without damaging it. The leaves should be harvested mid-summer and shade-dried.
The tannins in mullein leaf are astringent, proving it to be helpful in treating diarrhea. It also contains a soluble fibrous mucilage that swells and gels when it comes in contact with water, which has a demulcent quality that soothes both the throat and skin. It’s used homeopathically in an olive oil extract to treat earaches, eczema, inflammations, and migraines. The combination of it’s soothing and astringent qualities make it a helpful anti-inflammatory compress for hemorrhoids and other skin conditions, such as small wounds, herpes, and cold sores. It is also a strong cough remedy, expelling mucus and sedating spasms. It is a great lung tonic, as it reduces inflammation while stimulating fluid production, which facilities expectoration, especially in cases such as bronchitis. It is thought to be helpful in the treatment of tuberculosis. For lung conditions, it combines well with horehound, lobelia, and coltsfoot. It is often included in many herbal tobacco mixes, and used for restoring the lungs while quitting smoking. It should not be combined with tobacco, however, as mullein helps dilate and expectorate the lungs, and this can cause nicotine poisoning. The root of the mullein plant is diuretic.
Mullein stems were traditionally used, and can still be used as candle wicks and torches, as it burns easily and steadily when dried. It was also considered by ancient cultures to be a protectant against magic and witchcraft. It was used by the ancient Indians in Aryuvedic medicine to treat coughs, and by the ancient Greeks to treat diarrhea. Early European folk healers to treat coughs in both humans and cattle. It was brought to North America where it was quickly adopted by Native Americans, and both early American settlers and Native Americans smoked it to remedy conditions of the lungs and to revive the unconscious. The sweet, honey scented flowers are used to flavor liqueurs and can also be used as a natural dye. The leaf can also prove valuable when hiking and camping as a wrap for wounds, tinder, and as soft toilet paper.
1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves per cup of water, infused for 10-15 minutes, or 1-4 ml of the tincture three times daily. The leaves and flowers can be taken as a tea, olive oil extract, or as a tincture, but the seeds are considered toxic. If making a tea, strain before drinking, as the many hairs of the leaves can cause irritation in some individuals.
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