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Medicinal Plants of the SW: Verbascum thapsus


Verbascum thapsus

: Scrophulariaceae
Other common names: Aaron's rod, Adam's-flannel, blanket leaf, candlewick, velvet plant

 by Gilbert Escamilla, Maria Gatica-Palermo and Dineh John, Summer 2000

image courtesy of Science U
Mullein is a bi-annual. The first year the plant grows a rosette of leaves that are 6 to 8 inches long and covered with long fuzzy hairs which make them feel thick to the touch. The second year of growth it sends up a stalk that is 4 to 5 feet tall. The leaves grow alternately up the stalk and get smaller as they near the top. A spike of flowers grows on the top. The sulfur-yellow flowers, nearly an inch across are formed of four to five petals that unite at the base to form a short tube.

 Background and Habitat:
It is found growing wild in North America, Europe, and Asia, and has as many as twenty-seven common names. Common Mullein was believed to be first introduced into the United States in the mid-1700's. Mullein can adapt to various environments and can therefore be found in natural meadows, forest openings, neglected pastures, road cuts, and industrial areas. Both the leaves and the flower of mullein have been used as medicine since ancient times. The yellow flowers were once used as a blond hair dye, and the stems and leaves were combined to create candlewicks. We found mullein in the PDR for Herbal Medicines under the scientific name of verbascum densiflorum, and described the flowers as having a honey-like fragrance and an almond-like taste. The leaves were described as slimy and bitter.

 Medicinal uses:
Mullein had been used during the middle age as a remedy for skin and lung diseases in cattle and humans. By the end of the nineteenth century, mullein was given in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States to tuberculosis patients; its actions on the lungs are demulcent and emollient (Grieve, 1979) Nineteenth century Eclectic physicians used mullein for inflammatory diseases of the respiratory and genitourinary tracts and the ear canal (Ellingwood, 1983). Some naturopathic physicians and medical herbalist prescribe Mullein today as a treatment for chronic otitis media and eczema of the ear (Caradonna, 1997).


All parts of Mullein can be used and should be chopped in July when coming into blossom.. The flowers and the leaves of Mullein possess mildly demulcent, expectorant and astringent properties. The whole plant contains slightly sedative and narcotic properties. They can be used in tea or extract form.

photo by Dineh John

photos by Dineh John and Gilbert Escamilla

Choose flowering tips carefully from the top of the stalk. Mullein has a complete ring of open yellow flowers and buds. Take only about 1 inch of the tip. Weigh them and grind into a coarse blend. Moisten with either cane or grain alcohol. Toss the blend and make sure all parts are equally moistened. Cover with a cloth and let it sit for about an hour to allow alcohol to evaporate. The purpose of the alcohol is to kill mold or bacteria because just a little will cause your oil to go bad. After most of the alcohol is gone compress the herb in a roasting pan with your hand. Be careful not to overfill and then cover with olive oil. Cook at 105°-110°for at least two days. Strain and press the herb to remove as much oil and liquids as possible. Let the mixture stand for a day and syphon oil off the top.

Preferably pick bruised or dried leaves and add to boiling water to have tea. When making tea, strain the tea with a fine cloth to remove tiny hairs, which can irritate the throat.

Dried leaves could also be used for smoking. Crush leaves and place in a pipe or papers.

 Common use:
Demulcent, anodyne, anti-inflammatory; expectorant, respiratory support bronchitis, relaxant.

Covers and protects scraped tissues, Softens and soothes irritated skin, Shrinks tissues, prevents secretion of fluids, Ease coughs and sore throats, Soothe minor abrasions and relieve hemorrhoid pain.

photo by Dineh John


 Chemistry and Pharmacology:
Mullein flower contains approximately:
¨ 3% water soluble mucilage polysaccharides; which after hydrolysis yields
-47% D-galactose,
-25% arabinose,
-14% D-glucose,
- 6% D- xylose,
- 4% L-rhamnose,
- 2% D-mannose,
-1%L-fucose, and
- 12.5% uronic acids (Kraus and Franz, 1987; Meyer-Buchtela, 1999; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).
¨ 1.5-4% flavonoids;
-kaempferol, and
¨ caffeic acid derivatives;
-protocatechuic acids, and
¨ iridoid monoterpenes;
-methylcatalpol, and
¨ triterpene saponins (verbascosaponin) (Klimek, 1996a; Klimek, 1996b; Meyer-Buchtela, 1999; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).
¨ Sterols,
¨ 11% invert sugar (fructose + glucose) (Meyer-Buchtela, 1999; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).
Active Constituents:
3% mucilage, small amounts of saponins and tannis.

Grieve, M. Mullein, Great. Internet. 11 July 2000. Available.
Maier, Daryn Siegel. Mullein. Internet. 11 July 2000. Available.
Millspaugh, Charles F. American Medicinal Plants. Dover Publications, 1974, New York. Pg 433
Mullein -Facts and Information. Internet. 11 July 2000. Available.
Mullein. Internet. 11 July 2000. Available.
On Health: Mullein Flower. Internet. 11 July 2000. Available.
PDR for Herbal Medicines, Medical Economics Company, 1998, Montvale, New Jersey. Pg. 1210.
Peirce, Andrea. Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York. Pg 445.
Verbascum thapsis. Internet. 11 July 2000. Available.
Mullein at Science U


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Updated February 13, 2008

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