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Also called "grandmother's flannel" for its thick, soft leaves, mullein is a common wildflower that can grow almost anywhere. It reaches several feet tall and puts up a spike of densely packed tiny yellow flowers. Mullein has served many purposes over the centuries, from making candlewicks to casting out evil spirits, but as medicine it was primarily used to treat diarrhea, respiratory diseases, and hemorrhoids.
Mullein contains a high proportion of mucilage (large sugar molecules); mucilage is generally thought to have a soothing effect. Mullein also contains saponins that may help loosen mucus. 1 On this basis, mullein has been suggested as a treatment for asthma, colds , coughs , and sore throats. However, as yet there is no meaningful evidence that it is useful for any of these conditions.
Mullein is traditionally combined with other herbs in oil preparations to soothe the pain of ear infections (otitis media, or middle ear infection, but not “swimmer’s ear,” an external ear infection), and one study provides preliminary support for this use (see next section).
As with many herbs, test tube studies have found that mullein can kill viruses on contact. 2 In addition, an interesting...
Mullein leaves and flowers are on the FDA’s GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list, and there have been no credible reports of serious adverse effects. However, mullein seeds contain the insecticide and fish poison rotenone. While rotenone is relatively safe in humans, it does present some toxic risks. If mullein leaf products are contaminated with mullein seeds, long-term use might be harmful.
For this reason, as well as a complete lack of formal safety investigation of mullein, young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease should not use mullein for a prolonged period of time.