Mullein is a flowering plant, scientifically named Verbascum thapsus, that has long been used in herbal medicine. It originally grew in Europe and Western Asia, but it now grows in other places as well, including the United States and Canada. It’s also found in New Zealand. It thrives in a wide variety of environments including meadows, chapparal, deciduous forests, and evergreen forests. Because it does well in rocky soil, it may even be found growing as a weed in gravel pits or even next to the side of the road.
It’s a biennial plant, which means it lives for two growing seasons. During its first season, it produces a gathering of fuzzy leaves. The second year, the plant produces a tall stalk from the top that grows small yellow flowers.
Herbal medicinal practitioners use the flowers, leaves, and roots of mullein for a few different purposes, but more study may be needed to prove their efficacy and safety from a scientific perspective.
Mullein can be used as a supplement, but it’s very commonly consumed as a tea, brewed from parts of the plant with hot water to extract some of its nutrients and benefits.
Help with Breathing Difficulty
Herbal medicine specialists, naturopaths, and other types of health practitioners may recommend mullein for:
Mullein is an expectorant, which means it helps the body expel excess mucus, usually by helping make your coughs more productive, to bring up mucus that may be settling in the chest or in the throat. It is also a demulcent. Studies show that demulcents create a soothing anti-inflammatory coating over mucous membranes. Demulcents contain a higher amount of mucilage than other plants. All plants produce at least a little of this sticky substance, which provides soothing relief to the mucous membranes.
However, there has been very little study on these effects in a medical setting, so, more research is needed to determine the best application of mullein to relieve respiratory distress.
Fighting Viral Infections
Scientists studying medicinal herbs in test-tube studies have been encouraged to see that mullein may have some strong antiviral effects. One study showed it was particularly useful against the influenza virus. Others have suggested it might be useful fighting a strain of a herpes virus. Because these were both test-tube studies, though, more research is needed to be sure of its effectiveness in people.
Easing Ear Infections
Because mullein has some antibacterial properties, preliminary research shows that mullein may be useful in treating middle ear infections in children. Instead of tea, the treatment consists of ear drops with mullein, St. John's Wort, and garlic in oil or glycerin. However, scientists must perform more research to find the best way to treat ear infections with mullein. There have been no scientific studies on this particular treatment thus far.
Nutrients Per Serving
Mullein is usually brewed as a tea. Most tea has just 2 calories per cup and 1 gram of carbohydrates. However, adding milk, lemon, or sugar will change the nutrient profile. For example, one teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrates.
Tea is generally a low-calorie beverage, but adding dairy or sweeteners can make it a high-calorie and high-carbohydrate drink. If you are trying to watch your calorie or carbohydrate intake, be aware of how much you are adding to your drink. Some may consider using a low-calorie or no-calorie sweetener or a plant-based milk option to keep added calories and carbs on the lower side.
Things to Watch Out For
There are not currently many known side effects or drug interactions for this herb. Rarely, some people may get a skin rash after handling mullein plants. More study is needed to determine if it is safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, but it is generally considered safe.
How to Prepare Mullein Tea
To make mullein tea, you can use commercially prepared mullein tea bags or dried loose leaves. Pour 1 cup of water over 1–2 teaspoons of dried mullein leaves or flowers. Steep it for 10-15 minutes before drinking. You can drink the tea three or four times a day.