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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2018
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Mullein — Verbascum thapsus

If you think you don’t know an herb when you see one, this is a plant that I’m fairly confident anyone could pick out in a field. It’s likely to be one of the tallest of the plants you see, as it often reaches seven feet or more in height, with a tall spike at the center. The leaves are quite large (5-8 inches), soft and fuzzy with a look and feel that remind me of the ears on Nubian goats. You find mullein growing everywhere — by streams, at the side of the road, in cement cracks in sidewalks — and in any soil type (gravel, sand, clay). She is a determined grower, handles full sun to part shade, and is a biennial (in the first year you see a rosette of the beautiful, fuzzy large leaves at ground level, followed by the tall spike in year two with delicate yellow flowers all along the tall spike), and she grows in zones 3-9. That means that we find her in a lot of places here in Wisconsin.

Mullein leaves are used to moisten the respiratory tract and calm coughs and congestion. The flowers, when infused in oil, either alone or with garlic, are used to relieve infection and pain of earaches. We are going to focus on the leaves for this Herb Blurb, because it is the time of year when we use mullein leaf the most for its expectorant and antispasmodic properties. 

If you have a “tickly” cough, mullein might be just the thing for you. And, she is a wonderful tonic for hacking, spastic, deep coughs and for bronchial congestion, colds, allergies, and other respiratory issues. Mullein is also used to support glands, which can often become swollen and sore during times of infection. It has been used in the care of asthmatic individuals, because it can help relax constriction or tightness in the lungs and throat.

If you have mullein growing near you, it is a simple thing to harvest. Gently gather some of the beautiful leaves (taking care not to harvest more than ¼ of the plant), and allow them to air dry. Once dry, you can gently crumble them into a dark glass jar, or a regular mason jar that you store in a dark, cool place. If you don’t have it this year, start some seeds next year so that you will begin to have your own supply of this beautiful, healing herb.

Cough Tea

For an easy way to make tea to get you through cough and cold season, make up a batch of tea overnight, using a half-gallon mason jar or other similar glass jar.

  • ¼ ounce mullein leaf 
  • ¼ ounce coltsfoot leaf
  • ¼ ounce marshmallow leaf

Bring water to a boil, and pour over herbs to fill jar. Allow to steep overnight (you can pour the water into the jar in your kitchen sink, cover and leave overnight). In the morning, strain the herbs and refrigerate the tea. Warm as you want to drink it throughout the day. Feel free to add honey to taste, if you like. 

References: “Herbal antibiotics: Natural alternatives for treating drug-resistant bacteria (2nd Ed).” Buhner, S.H. Storey Publishing. 2012.

“Rosemary Gladstar’s medicinal herbs: A beginner’s guide.” Gladstar, R. Storey Publishing. 2012.

“The herbal apothecary: 100 medicinal herbs and how to use them.” Pursell, J.J. 2015. Timber Press. 2015.

T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD

T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD is co-owner of Sweet Willow Naturals in Green Bay, where we have over 140 organic herbs and 70 organic spices available for you to craft your own products, or to simply enjoy as tea. Our store focuses on education and we have many classes to help you learn about herbs, aromatherapy, nutrition, and self-care – focusing on safe information backed up by research and experience. We also offer wellness coaching and massage – stop in today! For more information, visit or email [email protected]

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