Edible Wild Plants: Mullein

Photo from Hawk Conservancy.

Mullein is an easy-to-grow herb, often seen in disturbed areas such as fields and ditches. A multi-purpose herb, mullein offers many healing abilities from its flowers, leaves and root. Mullein is also a lovely addition to landscaping. The stalk can grow 6 feet high, and the leaves can grow up to 2 feet across. Try growing a beautiful specimen in an area that bees can enjoy the blossoms, and birds can eat the seeds. You can also find it growing will all over the North Country!

Mullein has a myriad of uses. Every part of the plant is used at different times in its life cycle. The thick, soft leaves are used to treat respiratory illness. They have been shown to loosen congestion and help clear the lungs. The tiny hairs on the leaves can be irritating, and any teas should be filtered very carefully to avoid this problem. A tincture would alleviate this issue, although it is extremely bitter. 

Mullein flowers also provide a soothing and cleansing effect to the skin. As a wash, they are an easy treatment for minor wounds and scrapes. These same flowers can be picked throughout the growing season, placed in olive oil and left to infuse. The resulting infusion is wonderful for earaches that do NOT involve a ruptured eardrum. Add beeswax to the infused oil, and you will have a balm that makes a great addition to any baby's changing table. The delicate skin of a baby's diaper area can benefit from a light layer of this mullein balm.

Mullein root is used in urinary tract issues. The plant has a long taproot, making it difficult to harvest, and nearly impossible to transplant. When harvesting, be sure to use a spade and dig when the soil contains some moisture.

Finally, mullein is a wonderful indicator of a soil's contamination level. When looking for wild mullein, only harvest from straight, vigorous stalks. The crooked stalks indicate a high level of chemical contamination in the soil.

Here's how to prepare mullin for its healing qualities:

Things You'll Need
  • 1/2-gallon glass canning jar with lid
  • 1 quart 100-proof alcohol
  • 2 tbsp. honey
Preparing the Herbs
  • Harvest two quarts of mullein stems and flowers by making an angled cut near the base of hte plant. Don't take more than 50 percent of the total plant so as to leave plenty behind for future use. Shake the leaves free of any dust or insects. You can give the stems a rinse, but this isn't necessary unless the plant was covered in dirt.
  •  Break the stems into pieces and place them into the canning jar. If using purchased dried herbs, the herbs will already be processed. Fill the jar halfway with herbs but don't stuff them in. They will need to have room to fully absorb the tincture solution.
  • Pour one quart of 100-proof alcohol into the jar. Vodka or brandy is commonly used for making tinctures and is easily purchased in liquor stores. If alcohol is not desired, use a quart of plain white vinegar instead.Add two tablespoons of honey to a quart of water and mix this in with the alcohol. Mullein is a mucilaginous plant, which makes it so valuable as an expectorant. The honey will pull out the mucilage compounds to give you a more effective tincturePut the cap on the jar and shake it a little to allow the herbs to settle into the liquid. It is important that the solution--called the menstruum--completely covers the herbs. Any herbs that are exposed to air during the tincturing process will eventually spoil and destroy the tincture. Add more menstruum if necessarTightly cap the jar and label with the date. Place the jar in a cool, dry location for at least three weeks. The tincture will strengthen the longer it sits. Check on the herbs every couple of days and give the jar a turn to prevent settling. Check to see if menstruum needs to be added to the jar.
Making the Tincture
  • Place a colander over a pot and line with cheesecloth. You will be wringing the liquid out of the herbs, so use a piece that is big enough to make a small bundle.
  • Gather the corners of the cheesecloth and squeeze the liquid from the herbs, wrenching as much liquid out as you can.
  • Discard the mullein to the compost pile and pour the new tincture into a clean glass jar for future use.


Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.