| What is it?
In herbal medicine we use the flowers and leaves of Mullein, a tall plant that grows and lives for two years. Mullein produces long, thick, hairy leaves in a rosette at its base and then in its second year shoots up a tall spike bearing yellow flowers that can reach to over 3 meters.
How has it been used?
Mullein was described as a treatment for ‘old coughs’ by the Greek physician Dioscorides over 2000 years ago and has chiefly been used as a herb for lung problems since well before then till now.
Ancient cultures around the world considered Mullein a magical protector against witchcraft and evil spirits and like many such herbs used in magic Mullein has a long history as a healing plant. The botanical family name for Mullein; Schrophulariaceae is derived from scrofula, an old term for chronically swollen lymph glands, later identified as a form of tuberculosis.
Culpeper wrote that gargling Mullein 'easeth toothace and old cough' and in 19th century Ireland Mullein was considered a leading remedy for the tuberculosis that plagued many of the population and large amounts of it were cultivated for this particular purpose.
Kings Dispensatory says 'upon the upper portion of the respiratory tract is influence is pronounced' and the Eclectic physicians used Mullein widely for colds, coughs, asthma, and tonsillitis.
Oil of Mullein for ear troubles or as a chest rub can be exceptionally beneficial (see recipe at the bottom of the page)
Rudolph Weiss M.D writes that 'Mullein has a well-founded reputation as a cough remedy and that it is more effective at relieving sub-acute and chronic bronchitis with a persistent cough than acute inflammations of the mucus membranes"
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Science on Mullein
There have been no clinical trials with people using Mullein but it has had some interest in the scientific community nevertheless and Mullein has shown antimicrobial activity against strains of Staphylococcus aureus and Trichophyton mentagrophytes. The antibacterial activity of mullein was observed with Klebsiella pneumonia, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Escherichia coli.
Mullein contains a mucilaginous substance that swells and becomes slippery as it absorbs water and this may account for at least some of its soothing action whilst at the same time its saponin-bearing constituents and volatile oils cause it to have a cleansing action on the lungs.
Safety of Mullein
Some increase in coughing and cleansing of the lungs is to be expected with Mullein when this is needed and this is not to be taken as a bad sign. Otherwise no adverse effects are expected from taking Mullein, even in high or frequent doses. It may be confidently taken during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding and used by the young or old with safety.
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The pronounced relaxing, soothing and cleansing properties of Mullein make it most definitely one of my favourite herbs to use for people who are having all kinds of problems with their breathing. If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or if you just have your own reasons to want to get to know this plant ally at a much deeper level then I highly recommend you to make and take a cup of Mullein tea or a tsp of its tincture and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, observe for yourself how it makes you feel.
If you have the dried herb then suggest you have a good sniff of the leaves before you add the hot water and see if it does to you what it almost infallibly does to me - which is to give you a really good sneeze! In fact if you have something in there that needs cleaning out you might get more than one!! This is the first clue to how this great herb works, as you drink it I think you will be able to feel for yourself just why it was turned to for help for such awful breathing problems as chronic tuberculosis.
Mullein has pronounced soothing and relaxing properties. When we get caught with a chronic respiratory condition we nearly always have some debris (even the tiniest amount will do it) stuck somewhere in the lungs or bronchials. The body is intimately aware that it is there and will not cease in its efforts to expel the offending article until it is gone. Mullein combines just enough of an irritant to trigger an increased release of the sneeze or cough reflex and at the same time it calms everything down so it hurts less to get the job done.
Dosage is such a vital part of the art of herbal medicine that the importance of getting it right can hardly be overstated. That said there are few hard and fast rules as people can and do vary greatly to how much they need for the medicine to work at its best. With Mullein I do not feel that very large amounts are necessary but rather the best effect is to give small doses frequently if required. In tincture form that means I might use up to 4 or 6 mls a day of the herb in divided doses for an adult and anything from 2-4 grams of the tea, usually combined with some other respiratory tonic herbs (e.g. see tea recipe below)
Mullein combines perfectly with Marshmallow for painful coughs, with Elecampane for deep lung congestion and with Licorice root for soothing the bronchial tract.
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This is a tea formula that I've developed over the years for a tonic and cleansing action on chronic respiratory weaknesses such as asthma, chronic bronchitis etc. It's reasonably palatable and remarkably effective!
Mullein 10 gms
Elder flower 10gms
Hawthorn berry 10gms
Marshmallow root (fine cut) 5 gms
Licorice root (fine cut) 5 gms
Elecampane (fine cut) 5 gms
Ginger root 5 gms
*This gives enough for a small jar and quite a few cups of tea. Of course the overall amount can be made larger or smaller as needed by just adjusting the proportions of all the herbs up or down.
Instructions: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 3 heaped tsps of herbs (adding honey is optional at this point). Cover and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain the tea, sip hot and breathe deep.
Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Mullein is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Mullein can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Oil of Mullein (as per Thomas Bartram)
Gently heat 1 pint (600mls) of Olive oil in a non-aluminium vessel.
Gradually add fresh Mullein flowers to the warm oil until the mixture is saturated. Continue in gentle heat until all the colour fades from the flowers.
Press out the oil through some cloth (such as muslin) and bottle.
A few drops of the Mullein oil to be put directly into a painful ear (I suggest plugging the ear with a little cotton wool after doing this to keep it in for a good while)
Can also be used as a chest-rub for respiratory disorders
or as a healer for painful ulcers
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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