Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Verbascum thapsus - Great Mullein

(Scrophulariaceae Family)
Other Names: common mullein[E-flora]

"Verbascum thapsus is a BIENNIAL growing to 1.8 m (6ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jun to August, and the seeds ripen from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Flies, lepidoptera, self.The plant is self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure." [PFAF]

Origin Status: Exotic [E-flora]

General: "Robust biennial herb from a taproot; stems single, erect, 0.5-2 m tall; stem, leaves and inflorescence densely woolly with star-shaped or forking-branched, felted hairs."[IFBC-E-flora]

Habitat / Range
"Dry roadsides, gravel pits, fields and waste places; common in S BC north to 53degreeN, rare north to 55degreeN; introduced from Eurasia." [IFBC-E-flora] Fully naturalized in New Zealand [NewZealandNaturalized] Arid and stony pastures in the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise (Central Intaly) [Conti VFNP] Central Asia: Jalal-Abad, Osh, and Chuy Provinces of Kyrgyzstan [Eisenman MPCA] Sierra Nevada; "...disturbed places up to the subalpine zone." [Vizgirdas WPSN]


"Mullein does contain coumarin and rotenone, two substances that may be toxic in large quantities if ingested. Also, the seeds are not recommended for consumption." [Vizgirdas WPSN]

Edible Use

Other Uses

Medicinal Use

"It is widely used throughout the world for herbal remedies" [Veer, HIRB]

A decoction of the herb is used to treat neurosis and epilepsy, as a diuretic to treat kidney stones, and gout and swelling due to kidney and heart problems. It is used externally to treat throat diseases, neuralgia of facial nerves, in a bath to treat hemorrhoids, scrofula, and rickets, and as a compress or lotion to heal wounds and treat eye diseases. A decoction of the roots and leaves is used to treat diarrhea. An infusion and decoction of the leaves and fl owers is used as an expectorant, anti-in fl ammatory, demulcent and coating to treat acute respiratory diseases, pneumonia, bronchial asthma, gastritis and liver and gall bladder diseases (Plant Resources of the USSR 1990 ) .[Eisenman MPCA]


The flannelly leaves had their own uses, for they could actually be used like flannel, and wrapped round the throat to help relieve coughs and colds (Sanford), or, more simply, cut to be used as shoe-liners to keep the feet warm in winter (Forey). [DPL Watts]

"...roots medicinally, for lung disease, presumably as an expectorant..." [DPL Watts]

"consumption was treated with mullein, in cattle as well as in humans (Grigson. 1955; Ô Súilleabháin; Wood-Martin). An Irish remedy for tuberculosis was to boil an ounce of the dried leaves in a pint of milk, and give the result to the patient several times a day (Moloney). Alabama folk remedies include hot mullein tea for a cold, and a root tea, or eating the root with sugar, for the croup. Another one is for bronchial infections: heat mullein leaves in warm vinegar, and put them on the back and chest. Then drink a cup or two of peppermint tea (R B Browne). Kentucky practice was to take mullein tea for colds, bronchitis and croup (Thomas & Thomas). Eating the root appears again in the Balkans – it was taken there for a swelling in the throat (Kemp).
The Pennsylvania Germans used to say that to ease piles, what you had to do was to sit on mullein leaves (Fogel). That particular usage has a venerable history. A medieval record states that “for piles, take a pan with coals and heat a little stone glowing and put thereon the leaves of … mullein; and put in under a chair or under a stool with a siege, that the smoke thereof may ascend to thy fundament as hot as thou mayest suffer” (W M Dawson. 1934). Gerard, later on, was still able to recommend not only mullein leaves, but also the flowers – “the later Physitions commend the yellow floures, being steeped in oile and consumed away, to be a remedie against the piles”.
Culpeper recommended “the juyce of the Leaves and Flowers” for warts (Drury. 1991), and the powder of the dried root was also prescribed for the same condition. It has also been used down the centuries for various skin conditions, for mullein leaves rubbed on the skin will produce a fine complexion, or so it was believed in America (Bergen. 1896), or, as in Alabama, the leaf tea could be used, with some glycerine added, as a wash three or four times a day (R B Browne). They used to make a salve, too, by steeping mullein blossoms with lard (Bergen. 1896). Ear drops have been made from the flowers. The method is to take fresh flowers, steep them in olive oil, leave them for three weeks in a sunny window, then strain off. Two or three drops in the ear will relieve earache quickly (but one has waited three weeks already!). A very odd thing about this preparation is that a few drops in warm water before bedtime actually, or so it is claimed, cures children of bed-wetting (Genders. 1976). Boils were treated by Irish country people by applying a mullein leaf roasted between dock leaves, and moistened with spittle, as long as the spittle be that of an Irishman (Egan).
It is used for rheumatism in America, either by boiling the root and mixing it with whisky, or wild cherry bark, and drinking this as needed, or by dipping a cloth in mullein leaf tea, and binding it on the affected part (R B Browne), which reminds one of a very early cure for gout, which required the sufferer merely to lay the pounded herb to the sore place, “… within a few hours it will heal the sore so effectively that [the gouty man] can even dare and be able to walk” (W M Dawson. 1934). There are still some fantastic claims made for mullein. Even carrying it about with one helps epiletics, so Gerard reported, though he took care to say he did not believe it, but he does not disclaim the belief that wearing the leaves under the feet day and night “in manner of a shoe sole or sock, brings down in young maidens their desired sicknesse, being so kept under their feet that they fall not away”. Certainly, the leaves often used to be put into children’s shoes, but for quite a different reason – it was done when the soles were wearing thin and so would delay the time when they had to be replaced (Genders. 1976). Finally, an American usage – a mullein leaf is reckoned to be good for a parrot’s bite ! (Bergen. 1896)." [DPL Watts]

"The favourite remedy for pulmonary tuberculosis in Ireland throughout recorded history and doubtless long before, known from virtually every part of that country, has been to boil the woolly leaves of Verbascum thapsus in milk, strain the thick, mucilaginous liquid produced by that and then drink it warm, twice daily.92 So valued has this plant been there both for that and for coughs and colds more generally, sore throats, catarrh, bronchitis and asthma that it was formerly often grown in cottage gardens, sometimes on a considerable scale. Advertisements were placed in newspapers, offering it for sale, and it was available even in the best chemists’ shops in Dublin. Though species of Verbascum have been used for lung and chest complaints over much of Europe at least since Classical times, very curiously that heavy Irish use is not matched in the records from elsewhere in the British Isles. Such English ones as have been traced are all from the south-east (Sussex,93 Buckinghamshire,94 Norfolk95 and the Eastern Counties more generally96) and it would appear not even to have been a member at all of the Welsh or Scottish folk repertories. In so far as great mullein has had additional, minor uses, the records are again Irish almost wholly. In unspecified parts of Ulster a decoction has been taken for diarrhoea and, mixed with other herbs, for cramp and for liver and kidney ailments, while a leaf roasted between dock leaves and moistened with spittle has been a treatment for boils.97 The leaves have also predictably found favour as a poultice: in parts of Ireland for ‘running sores’,98 in Meath for bee stings99 and in Westmeath for goitre.100 In Kerry, though, it was the water in which the plant had been boiled that was rubbed into the body to ease doctor-resistant ‘pains’ (a word most often denoting rheumatism in the rural areas of Ireland).101" [MPFT]

Properties in Ayurvedic Medicine



Quercetin [1], Quercimeritrin [1], Quercitrin [1], Rutin [1], Verbacoside [2] [Azimova NC]

"An easily grown plant, it succeeds in most well-drained soils, including dry ones, and prefers a sunny position[200]. Dislikes shade and wet soils[200]. Thrives on chalk[200]. Prefers a light soil[200]. Hybridizes with other members of this genus, though the progeny are usually sterile[200]. A very ornamental plant, it often self-sows, especially on dry calcareous soils[53, 124]. Special Features:Attracts birds, Attractive foliage, Edible, Not North American native, Invasive, Naturalizing, Attracts butterflies, Suitable for dried flowers, Attractive flowers or blooms." [PFAF]

Remediation Potential: "The highest metal accumulation among all [twenty] plants...", including "...three grass species (Melica transsilvanica, Bromus inermis, Elymus hispidus) and one legume (Anthyllis vulneraria)...", "...was found in Verbascum thapsus, one of few species that efficiently started to produce seeds that germinated successfully. Higher levels of heavy metals (Zn, Y, As, Pb, Cu) in plants grown on the waste were usually accompanied by higher Ca, suggesting a possible role of this element in detoxification mechanisms." [Koltai AMPF]

Verbascum Sp.

"This genus is native to Europe and Asia and is composed of about 250 species. They are biennial or perennial, and rarely annuals or subshrubs plants will reach 0.5–3 m high. The leaves are arranged spirally and they have a lot of hairs. The flowers have five symmetrical petals: yellow or white, orange, brown, red, purple, and blue. The fruit is a capsule containing numerous seeds." [SoilBio-42]

Mullein Family:- Scrophulariaceae

"[Annual] biennial, rosette large. Stem:' erect, simple or branched just proximal to inflorescence. Leaf: basal and cauline, alternate, distal reduced. Inflorescence: raceme or panicle, bracted. Flower: calyx ± radial, deeply 5-lobed; corolla ± radial, ± rotate, 5-lobed; stamens 5, lower 2 filaments > upper 3, all or only upper hairy; stigma ± spheric. Fruit: capsule, septicidal. Seed: small, wingless, many.
± 360 species: Eurasia. (Latin: from root for bearded) [Donnelly et al. 1998 Amer J Bot 85:1618–1625]" [Jepson]

Local Species;

  1. Verbascum blattaria - Moth Mullein [E-flora][TSFTK]
  2. Verbascum phlomoides - Woolly Mullein [E-flora][TSFTK]
  3. Verbascum thapsus - Great Mullein [E-flora][PCBC][TSFTK]

Key to the Species and Taxonomic Notes
1. Plants more or less densely stalked-glandular upward, essentially smooth below; leaves green.......................Verbascum blattaria
1. Plants woolly throughout with branched, non-glandular hairs; leaves greyish.
2. Inflorescences loose, often branching at the base; leaves unstalked, not decurrent on the stem or only slightly so; plants loosely woolly...........................Verbascum phlomoides
2. Inflorescences dense, simple; leaves stalked, at least below, decurrent on the stem, usually as far as the next leaf below; plants densely woolly............................Verbascum thapsus

Moth Mullein - Verbascum blattaria

"Verbascum blattaria is a BIENNIAL/PERENNIAL growing to 1 m (3ft 3in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6. It is in flower from Jun to October, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects, self.The plant is self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil." [PFAF]

"General:Biennial herb from a taproot; stems single, erect, 0.5-1.5 m tall, angled, stalked-glandular upward especially in the inflorescence, smooth below." [IFBC-E-flora]

Habitat / Range
"Mesic to moist roadsides, fields and waste places; rare in SW and SC BC; introduced from Eurasia." [IFBC-E-flora]

Origin Status: Exotic [E-flora]

"An easily grown plant, it succeeds in most well-drained soils, including dry ones, and prefers a sunny position[187, 200]. Dislikes shade[200]. Plants are hardy to about -20°c[187]. Hybridizes with other members of this genus, though the progeny are usually sterile[200]." [PFAF]


Wolly Mullein - Verbascum phlomoides

"Verbascum phlomoides is a BIENNIAL/PERENNIAL growing to 1.2 m (4ft).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6. It is in flower from Jun to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects, self.The plant is self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil." [PFAF]
General: Stout biennial herb from a taproot; stems single, erect, 0.3-1.2 m tall, white- to yellowish-woolly. [IFBC-E-flora]

Habitat / Range
Mesic to moist roadsides, fields and waste places; rare in SW BC (Gulf Islands and adjacent mainland) and SC BC (Kelowna); introduced from Eurasia. [IFBC-E-flora]

Origin Status: Exotic [E-flora]

"An easily grown plant, it succeeds in most well-drained soils, including dry ones, and prefers a sunny position[200]. Dislikes shade and wet soils[200]. Thrives on chalk[200]. Prefers a light soil[200]. This species is hardy to at least -15°c[200]. Hybridizes with other members of this genus, though the progeny are usually sterile[200]. Plants can perennate when growing in light well-drained soils[111]." [PFAF]



V. thapsus; The leaves contain rotenone and coumarin, though the quantities are not given[222]. Rotenone is used as an insecticide and coumarin can prevent the blood from clotting[K]. Hairs on the leaves can act as an irritant[222].[PFAF]

Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

V. thapsus; The plant combines well with other expectorants such as coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris)[254]. [PFAF]
Harvesting: V. thapsus; The plant is harvested when in flower and is dried for later use[238]. [PFAF]
V. phlomoides; The plant is harvested when in flower and should be dried quickly and with care or it will lose its medicinal qualities[238].[PFAF]


V. thapsus; Slightly narcotic and also contain saponins[4]. A poultice made from the seeds and leaves is used to draw out splinters[4]. A decoction of the seeds is used to soothe chilblains and chapped skin[7]. [PFAF]
V. phlomoides; The seed is used to expel tapeworms from the body[4]. No other details are given, but the seeds probably contain saponins and so should be used with caution[K]. [PFAF]


V. thapsus; Externally, a poultice of the leaves is a good healer of wounds and is also applied to ulcers, tumours and piles[4, 222, 254]. Any preparation made from the leaves needs to be carefully strained in order to remove the small hairs which can be an irritant[7]. [PFAF]

Leaves & Flowers

V. thapsus; Anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant and vulnerary[4, 7, 13, 21, 46, 53, 165, 222]. An infusion is taken internally in the treatment of a wide range of chest complaints and also to treat diarrhoea[4, 238]. [PFAF]
V. phlomoides; The flowers and leaves are anodyne, antiseptic, astringent, demulcent, emollient, expectorant, pectoral and vulnerary[21, 238]. An infusion is used internally in the treatment of various respiratory complaints including coughs, bronchitis, asthma and throat irritations[238].[PFAF]


V. thapsus; A decoction of the roots is said to alleviate toothache and also relieve cramps and convulsions[4]. [PFAF]


V. thapsus; An infusion of the flowers in olive oil is used as earache drops, or as a local application in the treatment of piles and other mucous membrane inflammations[4, 222, 238]. This infusion is also strongly bactericidal[4]. [PFAF]
V. phlomoides; An infusion of the fresh or dried flowers in olive oil is used to treat earaches, sores, wounds, boils etc[238]. [PFAF]


V. thapsus; A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh leaves[4]. It is used in the treatment of long-standing headaches accompanied with oppression of the ear[4].[PFAF]


V. thapsus; The juice of the plant and powder made from the dried roots is said to quickly remove rough warts when rubbed on them[4]. It is not thought to be so useful for smooth warts[4]. [PFAF]


V. thapsus; Great mullein is a commonly used domestic herbal remedy, valued for its efficacy in the treatment of pectoral complaints[4]. It acts by reducing the formation of mucus and stimulating the coughing up of phlegm, and is a specific treatment for tracheitis and bronchitis[254]. [PFAF]


V.blattaria; According to North American folklore, the leaves were smoked to relieve asthma (Brendle and Unger 1935).[UAPDS]

V. thapsus; The flowers and seeds of this species were commonly smoked for the symptomatic relief of asthma and other pulmonary illnesses (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis 2003). Native North Americans inhaled the smoke of burning leaves to treat sore throats, asthma, and coughs (Kavasch 1979). It was also considered useful for relieving congestion and inflammation of the lungs (Tierra 1983). According to Speck (1917), the Penobscot inhaled the smoke of burning leaves to treat asthma, as did the Forest Potawatomi (Smith 1933), the Mohegan (Krochmal and Krochmal 1973), and other North American tribes (Brendle and Unger 1935) as well as the Spanish people of New Mexico (Krochmal et al. 1969). They also used the smoke to relieve sore throats and prepared smoke smudges to treat catarrh and to revive unconscious people (Tantaquidgeon 1928). The Flambeau Ojibwa of North America smoked the leaves to relieve asthma and bronchitis (Smith 1932). The Ozarker people of the U.S. Midwest smoked dried leaves for the treatment of asthma and coughs (Liebert 1987). The Menominee inhaled smoke from burning roots to treat a variety of pulmonary diseases (Smith 1933). The Ktunaxa of British Columbia, Canada, and other North American areas made their horses inhale the smoke to clear their nostrils, especially if they were plugged due to colds (Turner 1997). Dried leaves were smoked as an alternative to tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) in the remote tribal areas of the Almora District of India (Arya and Prakash 2000). In other parts of India, dried leaves were smoked for the treatment of asthma and sporadic cough (Kirtikar and Basu 1935). It was used for similar purposes in central and southern Europe and western Asia (Usher 1974). In the upper Lucca Province of Italy, the leaves of this species were often smoked with tobacco for recreational purposes (Pieroni 2000). In the Kala Chitta Hills of the Attock District of Pakistan, smoke from the leaves was inhaled to treat chest complaints and to relieve asthma (Mahmood et al. 2004). The leaves were smoked for unspecified purposes in Tibet (Tsarong 1986) and were smoked to treat lung congestion, urinary tract infections, and diarrhea in many unspecified countries (Saeed et al. 2004).[UAPDS]


V.blattaria, V.phlomoides,V.thapsus; "Seed - sow late spring to early summer in a cold frame and only just cover the seed[200]. Germination usually takes place within 2 - 3 weeks. When they are large enough to handle, prick out the seedlings into individual pots and plant them out in late summer. The seed has a long viability[200]." [PFAF]

Uses of Other Sp.

MULLEIN (Verbascum spp.) [HMH Duke]
"Primarily Verbascum densiflorum Bertol (Synonym: V. thapsiforme Schrad.) and common mullein,V. thapsus L. As so often, the Herbal PDR stresses the European rather than the common American weed, V. thapsus. American entries apply mostly to V. thapsus, European to V. densiflorum"
"Activities (Mullein) — Analgesic (1; FEL; WAM); Antiherpetic (1; BGB); Antiinflammatory (1; APA; FAD; PNC); Antiperiodic (f; FEL); Antispasmodic (1; FAD; FEL; PED; WAM); Antiviral (1; BGB); Astringent (1; APA; PED); Decongestant (1; APA); Demulcent (1; BGB; FEL; PNC; WAM); Diuretic (f; APA; FEL; PHR; PNC); Emollient (f; BGB; PIP; PNC); Expectorant (2; KOM; MAD; PH2; PIP; WAM); Mucilaginous (1; PED); Narcotic (f; FEL); Nervine (f; FEL); Pectoral (1; BGB; MAD); Sedative (f; FEL); Vulnerary (1; PNC)."
Select Indications (Mullein) — Adenopathy (f; DEM; JLH); Asthma (1; APA; DEM; FAD; FEL; MIC; PH2; WAM); Bronchosis (2; APA; MAD; PHR; PH2; SKY); Bruise (f; DEM); Burn (f; MAD; PH2); Cancer (f; FEL; JLH); Cancer, cervix (f; JLH); Cancer, gland (f; JLH); Cancer, stomach (f; JLH); Catarrh (2; DEM; FEL; KOM; PH2; PIP); Cold (f; DEM; FEL; SKY); Cough (2; APA; DEM; PHR; PH2; WAM); Cramp (1; FAD; FEL; MAD; PED; WAM); Cystosis (f; FEL; PH2); Deafness (f; FEL; MAD); Dermatosis (1; APA; BGB; DEM; PH2); Diarrhea (1; APA; DEM; FEL; MAD; PH2); Dysuria (1; FEL; WAM); Earache (1; BGB; DEM; FAD; PH2; WAM); Eczema (1; BGB; PH2); Enterosis (1; APA; DEM; FEL; PH2); Enuresis (f; FEL; WAM); Fever (f; DEM; FAD); Flu (1; BGB; PH2); Hemorrhoid (1; APA; DEM; FAD; FEL; MAD; PH2); Inflammation (1; APA; FAD; PH2; PNC); Mucososis (1; APA; FAD); Nephrosis (f; DEM; FAD; PH2); Otosis (f; MAD; PH2; SKY); Pain (1; APA; DEM; FEL; PH2; WAM); Pulmonosis (1; BGB; DEM; MAD); Respirosis (1; APA; PHR; PH2; PIP); Rheumatism (f; DEM; PHR); Sore (f; DEM; FAD; FEL); Sore Throat (1; APA; DEM; FEL; SKY; WAM); Swelling (f; DEM; FEL; JLH); Tuberculosis (1; APA; BGB; DEM; MAD); Tumor (f; FAD; FEL); Wart (f; DEM; JLH); Water Retention (f; APA; FEL; PHR; PNC); Wound (1; APA; DEM; MAD; PHR).
"Dosages (Mullein) — 3–4 tsp (1.5–2 g) flowers/cup water 1–2 ×/day (APA); 3–4 g flowers/day(KOM; PIP); 1 tsp (~1.1 g) flowers/cold tea (MAD); 1–2 tbsp fresh leaf (PED); 2–3 g dry leaf (PED); 2 g dry leaf/cup boiling water (PED); 1–2 tsp leaf or flower 3–4 ×/day (SKY); 1–2 g leaf or flower 3 ×/day (SKY); 1–4 ml leaf or flower tincture 3–4 ×/day (SKY); 3–4 g drug/day (PH2); 20–30 drops tincture (20 g drug:80 g 70% ethanol) several ×/day (PH2); 2–5 ml liquid herb extract (PNC)."
"Contraindications, Interactions, and Side Effects (Mullein) — Class 1 (AHP). None known or reported (KOM; PHR; PH2; PIP; WAM). Mucilage underlies soothing effects on mucous membranes (SKY). Saponins may explain expectorant activity (SKY)."

Dynamic Accumulator: Verbascum Sp; (S),(Mg),(K) and (Fe)[DynamicAccumulators]


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