Mullein tea is a medicinal beverage made from the common mullein plant, a member of the figwort family. Mullein is an invasive weed in the United States, where it easily overtakes native shrubs and wildflowers and is difficult to eradicate. Despite the plant’s damaging ecological impact, mullein tea is highly regarded by folk practitioners as a treatment for a variety of ailments.
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Common mullein, or Verbascum thapsus, is native to Europe and Asia. Ancient Romans used mullein plants as torches and made hair dye out of its yellow flowers. Aristotle fed mullein seeds to fish for their narcotic effect, to aid in fishing. Common mullein came to the United States with the Puritans, who used mullein tea as a medicinal remedy. By the early 19th century, mullein was widely established in America. Today it grows frequently in disturbed soil, such as abandoned fields, roadsides and railroads. Common mullein has at least 50 other names, including beggar's flannel, devil's-tobacco, fluffweed, Jupiter's staff, miner's candle and velvet plant.
This biennial plant has a rosette of green basal leaves, which mature to over 12 inches in length. Out of the rosette grows a single, vertical stem that can reach up to 8 feet tall. Smaller leaves grow up the length of the stem. The basal and stem leaves have soft, wooly hair. From June to September, saucer-shaped yellow flowers bloom from the top section of the stem in tight clusters. The flowers give way to fruit capsules filled with brown seeds. Common mullein has a taproot and fibrous root system.
According to NYU Langone Medical Center, mullein contains a glue-like sugar molecule called mucilage that soothes the throat, and saponins that loosen mucus. A folk remedy tea prepared from mullein leaves and flowers reportedly treats sore throats, congestion, coughs and asthma. Mullein tea also has astringent properties that, when made into compresses, help ease the pain and inflammation of hemorrhoids. Mullein combined with oil and other herbs may treat ear infections.There is no meaningful scientific evidence of the effectiveness of these remedies.
The ingredients for mullein tea are mullein leaves and flowers harvested directly from a healthy plant or purchased dried from a local herbalist. Caution is necessary when handling the leaves because they may cause contact dermatitis. Folk practitioners make a pot of mullein tea by steeping six dried or fresh leaves and a few flowers in five cups of boiled water for five minutes. Straining the tea through a piece of cheesecloth before consumption removes any mullein leaf hairs, which may irritate the throat. Honey is an optional sweetener.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that mullein flowers are "generally recognized as safe" as a substance used in conjunction with flavoring foods. Although mullein tea is a well-known folk remedy for cold symptoms, the FDA does not regulate or accept mullein for that use, so its safety is unknown. The FDA lists mullein in its Poisonous Plant Database as a fish poison because its seeds contain rotenone, a toxin to fish. The seeds are not safe for use in mullein tea. NYU Langone Medical Center recommends that you limit use of mullein and do not use it for extended periods of time. There are currently no peer reviewed studies that verify the mullein's effectiveness in treating any health conditions.