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Scientific Name(S): Verbascum thapsus L., V. phlomoides L., V. thapsiforme Schrad. Family: Scrophulariaceae

Common Name(S): American mullein, European or orange mullein, candleflower, candlewick, higtaper and longwort

Mullein has been known since the time of Ulysses, who is said to have used it as protection from evil spirits. Its rigid 6-foot stem, when soaked in oil, lends itself to use as a torch (hence the name "Torchweed"). Mullein's large, yellow flowers have a honey-like fragrance and an almond-like taste. The leaves are slimy and bitter.

Botany: The common mullein, usually found throughout the United States, is a woolly-leafed biennial plant. During the first year of its growth, the large leaves form a low-lying basal rosette. In the spring of the second year, the plant develops a tall stem that can grow to 4 or more feet in height. The top portion of the stem develops yellow flowers consisting of a five-part corolla. This, along with the stamens, is what constitutes the active ingredient. The flowers bloom from June to September and have a faint, honey-like odor. Electron microscopy performed on V. thapsus reveals distinctive pollen grains and trichomes, which may be helpful for identification purposes.

History: Mullein boasts an illustrious history as a favored herbal remedy and, consequently, has found use in all manner of disorders. Its traditional uses have generally focused on the management of respiratory disorders where it was used to treat asthma, coughs, tuberculosis and related respiratory problems. However, in its various forms, the plant has been used to treat hemorrhoids, burns, bruises and gout. Preparations of the plant have been ingested, applied topically and smoked. The yellow flowers had once been used as a source of yellow hair dye. In Appalachia, the plant has been used to treat colds and the boiled root administered for croup. Leaves were applied topically to soften and protect the skin. An oil derived from the flowers has been used to soothe earaches.

Uses of Mullein

Mullein has expectorant and cough suppressant properties that make it useful for symptomatic treatment of sore throat and cough. Antiviral activity of mullein has been reported against herpes simplex type I virus and influenza A and B strains.

Due to its mucilage content, mullein has also been used topically by herbalists as a soothing emollient for inflammatory skin conditions and burns.

Side Effects of Mullein

No adverse effects have been reported.


A tea of mullein is made by pouring 1 cup (250 ml) of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons (5-10 grams) of dried leaves or flowers and steeping for ten to fifteen minutes. The tea can be drunk three to four times per day. For the tincture, 1/4-3/4 teaspoon (1-4 ml) is taken three to four times per day. As a dried product, 1/2-3/4 teaspoon (3-4 grams) is used three times per day. Mullein is sometimes combined with other demulcent or expectorant herbs when used to treat coughs and bronchial irritation. For ear infections , some doctors apply an oil extract directly in the ear. If the eardrum has ruptured, nothing should be put directly in the ear. Therefore, a qualified healthcare professional should always do an ear examination before mullein oil is placed in the ear.

Toxicology: Plants from the genera Verbascum and Senecio have been given the common Spanish name senecio, and may cause some confusion. No adverse effects have been reported from the use of Verbascum or its extracts.

Summary: Mullein is a common plant with a long history of use in herbal medicine. There is little evidence to indicate that the plant can offer more than mild astringent and topical soothing effects. It may have mild demulcent properties when ingested. Antiviral activity of mullein has been reported against herpes and influenza. The plant has not been associated with toxicity.0

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