Materia Medica: Mullein


Mullein is used to tone and moisten the mucous membranes of the respiratory system and reduce inflammation. The combination of expectorant saponins and emollient mucilage makes the plant particularly effective for cough. It is considered specific for bronchitis. Externally an olive oil extract is excellent for ear problems.


Latin Binomial: Vervascum thapsus

Common Name(s): Mullein, Aaron's Rod, Great Mullein, Common Mullein

TCM Name: Jia Yan Ye

Ayurvedic Name: N/A

Family: Scrophulariaceae (figwort family)

Physical Description of the Plant: 

Mullein is a biennial plant with a basal rosette of fuzzy leaves in it’s first year of growth and a stalk reaching 5' or more the second year. The soft, fine hairs on the light green leaves and stalk give the plant an almost silver-grey appearance. The leaves are large and range from 6-8 inches in length. On  flowering plants the leaves are arranged in an alternating pattern becoming progressively smaller as they move up the stalk. At the top of the spike are densely packed yellow flowers with five petals. The self-pollinating flowers open in a random pattern and are only open for a day. The flowers themselves are stalkless, the five petals together at the base forming a tube that attaches to the spike. Each flowers has five stamens, three shorter upper and two larger lower ones.

Habitat:  Native to Britain, Europe and parts of Asia, it is now spread throughout North America. It frequently colonizes bare and disturbed soil, preferring sandy and dry soils.

Harvest and Collection: The leaves are best gathered the first year, the flowers in the summer of the second year. Roots can be harvested before the stalk emerges. 

Parts of the Plant Used: Flowers, leaves and root.

Qualities: Soothing for the ears, throat and lungs, and urinary  tract.

Chemical Constituents: 

  • Aucubin
  • Beta-carotene
  • Coumarin
  • Fats
  • Flavonoids (verbascoside, hesperidin)
  • Glycosides
  • Mucilage (polysaccharides)
  • Proteins
  • Saponins
  • Minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron)
  • Tannins
  • Thapsic acid
  • Terpenoids
  • Volatile oils

Mullein contains approximately 3 percent the polysaccharide mucilage and gums which soothe irritated tissues within the body’s mucous membranes. These polysaccharides are responsible for the demulcent, inflammation modulating, and relaxant expectorant properties. The saponins stimulate fluid production, reducing viscosity of mucous and thus aid expectoration. Antimicrobial action assists treatment of respiratory tract infection. The iridoid glycoside content and flavonoids decrease inflammation, the prior giving it a mild bitter property. The tannins are responsible for the astringency. The presence of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, lend an affinity for the musculoskeletal system, though only strong infusions or spagyric preparations will contain these constituents. Mullein flower extracts inhibit the growth of influenza viruses by stimulating interferon-like activity. (Sajah Popham)

Taste: Sweet, salty, minerally.

Actions (Western): 

  • Alterative
  • Anticatarrhal
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-spasmodic
  • Astringent
  • Demulcent
  • Diaphoretic
  • Diuretic
  • Emollient
  • Expectorant (relaxing)
  • Febrifuge
  • Nervine
  • Peripheral vasodilator
  • Pulmonary tonic / trophorestorative
  • Vulnerary (externally)

Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: 

Meridians: Lung, Stomach, Intestines

  • Promote Lung Yin: moistening sore throat and lungs, coughs, asthma.
  • Expels phlegm: whooping cough, coughs with yellow or white phlegm.  
  • Reduce inflammation and dry mucous damp: nasal and head congestion, watery discharge, hay fever, chronic intestinal infections, painful urination. Bladder irritation due to any cause.
  • Soften boils and expel pus: wounds and irritated skin conditions.


  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Dry, irritable cough – harsh, racking – ‘shakes the frame’
  • Earache with pain and wax in ear
  • Lower respiratory catarrh, all cough conditions
  • Muscular & Skeletal Problems (Matthew Wood) – has a moistening, lubricating effect on the synovial membranes – so that it is hydrating to the spine and joints.
  • Painful and hard coughs
  • Pleurisy
  • Sedative to inflamed & irritated NERVES – sharp nerve pain
  • Set bones in right place when they have been broken or out of place (Wood)
  • Sore throat, tonsillitis, mumps
  • Swollen Glands – Dry atrophy of the lymphatic system with poor absorption through the small intestine and weakness in the lymphatics.
  • Topical treatment for earache (infused in olive oil)
  • Tuberculosis
  • Useful in feverish conditions
  • Voice unnaturally high or low due to the inflammation of the pharynx

Contraindications/Cautions: Mullein oil should not be used in ear canal if the eardrum has been perforated and immediate medical attention should be sought. (Note Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) is a specific agent for perforated tissues).

Drug Interactions: No herb drug interactions have been reported.


  • Tincture: 1:5 dry strength liquid extract: take 20-60 drops up to three times a day.
  • Infusion: To make a tea, use one ounce of the herb per pint of water. Be sure to strain the tea well through a fine cloth or a paper coffee filter before consuming as as the fine hairs can be irritating . Drink up to three cups per day..
  • Infused oil- use ½ cup oil with a cup of Mullen blossoms in a double boiler. Simmer over low heat for at least three hours.

Combinations: for earaches combine with garlic and St. John's Wort, for coughs and other respiratory irritations combine with Licorice root, Slippery Elm bark or Marshmallow root, for bronchitis combine with White Horehound, Coltsfoot, Lobelia, Elecampane, Lomatium, Pleurisy root.

Energetics:  Astringent, Cool, Moistening

Folklore: Great mullein has been used since ancient times as a remedy for skin, throat and respiratory ailments. It has long had a medicinal reputation. The Greek physician Dioscorides recommended the plant for pulmonary diseases. Leaf decoctions or herbal teas were used for tuberculosis, dry cough, bronchitis, sore throat and hemorrhoids. Leaves were also smoked for pulmonary ailments, a tradition adopted by Native American peoples. The Zuni people use poultices of powdered root applied to sores, rashes and skin infections. An infusion of the root is also used to treat athlete's foot.

Oil from the flowers was used against catarrhs, colics and, in Germany, earaches, frostbite, eczema and other external conditions. Topical application of various V. thapsus-based preparations was recommended for the treatment of warts, boils, carbuncles, hemorrhoids, and chilblains. It was also part of the National Formulary in the United States and United Kingdom.

The flowers provide dyes of bright yellow or green, and have been used for hair dye. The dried leaves and hair were made into candle wicks, or put into shoes to help with insulating them. The dried stems were also dipped into suet or wax to make torches.

Flower Essence: Mullein - I AM courage and internal peace during challenging times. 

Mullein connects us with our inner voice, with the light of conscience, to help overcome falsity to self and others.  Use the strength and constancy of the sun to access courage, joy and internal peace, instead of suffering, during difficult times. Trust that even during the darkest night, the sun will rise again in the morning. 


 Mullein is used for hoarseness, coughs, bronchitis, whooping cough, asthma, hay fever and other respiratory conditions, such as laryngitis, tonsillitis, tracheitis, irritable chronic bronchitis, and pleurisy. Also used for earaches, ear infections. The leaves, dried and smoked like tobacco, are useful for asthma and laryngeal conditions. Some herbalists have used it for upper respiratory conditions (sinus congestion, head colds, cold, flu, allergies).


These formulas are from Sajah Popham at School of Evolutionary Herbalism:

Dry/Atrophy Respiratory Compound:

  • 20% Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) 20%
  • Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) 20%
  • Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) 20%
  • Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) 15%
  • Plantain (Plantago major) 5%
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

This is essentially a demulcent expectorant formula. Because it contains Marshmallow and Slippery Elm it is unsuitable as a tincture preparation and would yield best as an infusion. Contrary to popular belief, Marshmallow and Slippery Elm can be extracted in hot water, it only yields a different spectrum of polysaccharides than warm water. This formula would be useful not only for an acute dry cough, but could also be used to replenish and rejuvenate a worn down respiratory system from excessive coughing, or generalized weak/dry lungs.

Dry Joint Formula

  • 30% Mullein root (Verbascum thapsus)
  • 30% Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum)
  • 30% Pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • 10% Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

The three primary herbs in this formula have unique abilities to draw fluids into the joints, moistening and lubricating the serous membranes, synovial fluids, and/or bursa in the joints. It is indicated for consistent clicking, popping, and stiffness in the joints. A mild circulatory stimulant could be added to this formula, such as Turmeric, Cayenne, or Prickly Ash to dilate the vasculature to bring fresh blood supply to the

Scientific Research

Verbascoside is a unique iridoid glycoside that can inhibit aldose reductase and 5 lipoxygenase; as a consequence, it may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In vitro studies suggest that mullein may have antiviral effects, and it may potentiate the anti-influenza virus action of amantadine in tissue culture.  Steve Mathew -

Recent studies have found that mullein contains glycyrrhizin compounds with bactericide and potential anti-tumoral action. These compounds are concentrated in the flowers. The German Commission E sanctioned medicinal use of the plant for catarrhs.

"Mullein flower". The Commission E Monographs. American Botanical Council. February 1, 1990.

Turker, Arzu Ucar; Ekrem Gurel (September 2005). "Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus L.): Recent Advances in Research" (PDF). Phytotherapy Research. 19 (9): 733–739. doi:10.1002/ptr.1653

Turker, Arzu Ucar; N. D. Camper (October 2002). "Biological activity of common mullein, a medicinal plant". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 82 (2–3): 117–125.


Grieve, Margaret (1982) [1931]. "Mullein, Great". A Modern Herbal. Volume 2: I-Z. New York: Dover Publication. ISBN 0-486-22799-5.

Niering, William A. (1979). The Audubon Society field guide to North American wildflowers, eastern region. New York: Knopf. p. 798. ISBN 0-394-50432-1.