Mullein (V. phlomoides, V. thapsiforme, or Verbascum Thapsus) otherwise known as European or orange mullein, American mullein, candlewick, candle flower, high taper, or lungwort is generally found all over the US. It’s a biennial plant with large woolly-leaves that form low-lying basal rosettes during the plant’s first year of growth. During the spring of its second year, mullein plants develop a very tall stem, growing to 1.22 m in height or more. The top of that stem will also develop yellow flowers with a faint odor that smells like honey, constituting the active ingredient in medicinal treatments along with the plant’s stamens. Every part of the mullein plant is covered with star-shaped trichomes, which is especially thick on its leaves and gives them a silver-like appearance.
The plant was first described way back in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus in his book Species Plantarum. The book listed every single plant species that was known at that time and was the first book that consistently applied binomial names (scientific names) to plants. This was the starting point of plant naming. The mullein plant’s name is thought to be derived from the Latin word “Mollis,” which means “soft.” This is a reference to the plant’s soft woolly leaves and stems. On the other hand, the name could be referring to the Latin word “malandrium,” which means “malanders.” This is a cattle disease that mullein has been utilized as a remedy. Several other folk names for the mullein plant offer much more interesting associations, including “Aaron’s rod,” “Jupiter’s staff,” and “Jacob’s staff,” whereas the leaves have also commonly been called “flannel leaves.” and “bunny’s ears.”
Mullein plants grow in a wide range of habitats, although they actually prefer disturbed soil that is well-lit. The plants often appear soon after the earth has received light, sprouting from long-lived seeds existing within the soil seed bank. It tends to be a weed that is quite and known for spreading by prolifically produced seeds. Mullein has become quite invasive in a number of temperate world regions. It is just a minor problem for many agricultural crops because it isn’t really a competitive species that is intolerant of shade, and can’t survive being tilled. Mullein also plays host to numerous insects, and some of them can prove harmful to a wide range of other plants. Individual mullein plants can be easily removed by hand, however larger populations of the plant can be quite challenging to eliminate even with effective weed control.
Mullein has quite a history as an herbal remedy used to treat a variety of disorders, mainly focusing on managing respiratory disorders like asthma, cough, TB, and other respiratory problems. On the other hand, mullein, in various forms, has also been utilized for treating bruises, burns, gout, and hemorrhoids. Preparations of mullein have been applied topically, ingested, and even smoked. In addition, mullein’s yellow flowers were once used for making yellow hair dye. In Appalachia, mullein has also been used extensively for treating the common cold and the roots boiled for treating croup. Oil from the yellow flowers has also been widely used for soothing earaches, and the leaves of the plant applied for protecting and softening the skin.
The mullein plant also offers some mild topical soothing effects and astringent properties as well as some demulcent properties (when it is ingested). It’s quite useful for providing some treatment of symptoms of cough and sore throats via its cough suppressant and expectorant properties. In addition, the strong antiviral activity of this plant has been chronicled for treating influenza and herpes. To date, there haven’t been any reports of adverse effects nor of any serious toxicities from the use of mullein.