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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.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Mullein?
Two double-blind trials enrolling a total of more than 250 children with eardrum pain caused by middle ear infection compared the effectiveness of an herbal preparation containing garlic , St. John’s wort , and calendula against a standard anesthetic ear drop product (ametocaine and phenazone). 1 The results indicated that the two treatments reduced pain to an equivalent extent. However, due to the strong placebo response in pain conditions, this study would have needed a placebo group to provide truly dependable evidence that the herb is effective.
Note: While herbal ear products may reduce pain, it is somewhat unlikely that they have any actual effect on the infection due to the barrier formed by the eardrum.
To make mullein tea, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried leaves and flowers to 1 cup of boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Make sure to strain the tea before drinking it because fuzzy bits of the herb can stick in your throat and cause an irritating tickle. You can also breathe the steam from a boiling pot of mullein tea.
NOTE: Mullein seeds contain the potentially toxic substance rotenone (see Safety Issues). For this reason, it is advisable to make sure there are no seeds in the mullein flowers that you use; or, alternatively, you can use only mullein leaf.
For ear infection pain, mullein oil products are brought to room temperature and dripped into the ear canal. However, it is advisable to make sure the eardrum isn’t punctured before using instilling mullein oil into the ear.
- McCutcheon AR, Roberts TE, Gibbons E, Ellis SM, Babiuk LA, Hancock RE, Towers GH. Antiviral screening of British Columbian medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 49(2):101-10.