Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), also known as great or common mullein, is a biennial member of the figwort family that is original to Eurasia, Africa and now naturalized in the Americas. All parts of the plant are used in traditional healing systems, although most people are familiar with using only the leaves and flowers. Historically, mullein is used to address gastrointestinal complaints, skin disorders and respiratory conditions.
Mullein is easily recognizable by its tall stalks of large, fuzzy leaves that grow out from a rosette on the ground in its second year. In most climates, the plant produces small yellow flowers from June through August, but flowering may extend well into fall in warmer regions. Each bud opens before dawn and closes late afternoon, for a lifespan of just one day. Note that the flowers can be tinctured and applied topically for pain and swelling.
The seeds of mullein contain rotenone, a potent pesticide. North American natives ground the seed into a powder and used it to paralyze fish.
The tall stalks are used as a “hand drill” or like a bow for fire-starting and are also dipped in wax and used as torches.
The herb is typically found in disturbed but rough terrain where little else grows. Its success lies in the fact that each plant produces up to 240,000 seeds that can remain viable in the soil for many decades. After seeding, the plant dies back. Within 15 to 20 feet of these sites is where you’ll find new first-year rosettes forming the following season.
When making mullein oil from fresh flowers, be aware that you must wilt the flowers first to reduce their moisture content. Otherwise, they might ferment (get moldy) and spoil the oil.
Traditional Mullein Ear Oil
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dried mullein flowers
2 tablespoons dried garlic granules
1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
Optional: 10 drops lavender, rosemary, oregano or thyme essential oil
Infuse the olive oil, mullein flowers and garlic in the top of a double boiler by gently heating for a few minutes, then remove from heat, cover and let steep for 2 to 4 hours. Alternately, infuse the oil via the solar method by combining the olive oil, mullein flowers and garlic in a mason jar. Cap and leave in a sunny location outdoors for 4 to 6 weeks. Strain through cheesecloth, reserving the precious oil in a bowl (squeeze that cheesecloth!) Stir in the vitamin E oil and essential oil, if using. Transfer into amber dropper bottles and label. Store in a cool, dry place for up to one year. To use for ear pain, add 3 to 5 drops into ear canal. Apply a warm compress to the ear, if desired. Repeat 2 to 3 times daily.