Foraging Mullein: Exploring the Edible and Medicinal Benefits

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is a fascinating wild weed that offers both culinary and medicinal uses. This versatile plant is a must-have in every herbalist’s medicine cabinet, and lucky for us, it’s also easy to forage in the wild.

Why Mullein Matters

At first glance, Mullein may seem inconspicuous during its first year as it forms a low-growing basal rosette. However, in its second year, this biennial plant transforms into a tall stalk adorned with vibrant yellow flowers. It is these beautiful flowers that hold much of Mullein’s medicinal properties. Apart from being consumed raw, they are commonly made into herbal-infused oils, used to address various ailments such as ear infections.

Mullein leaves are particularly effective in respiratory teas, making them a go-to remedy for bronchial issues. And let’s not forget about the root! Harvested in the autumn of the first year, the thick tap root is highly valued. Folk herbalists even believe it can provide relief for back pain and can be made into a herbal tincture.

Mullein in the Garden

Getting to Know Mullein

Mullein, scientifically known as Verbascum, belongs to the snapdragon family (Scrophulariaceae) and boasts over 450 different species. While most species are biennial or perennial plants, some are even annuals. The genus can be found across Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

In the United States, the term “Mullein” commonly refers to the biennial Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), which has spread throughout the Americas and Australia. With various intriguing names such as Great Mullein, Feltwort, Lady’s Blanket, and Poor Man’s Blanket, this plant has made its mark in different cultures.

Mullein Flower Stalk

Mullein on Your Plate

All parts of the Mullein plant, except for the seeds, are edible. While the leaves can be eaten raw, they are not the most palatable and may cause irritation due to their fine hairs. However, Mullein flowers make for a delightful addition to salads, adding a vibrant splash of color. The real culinary gem lies in the root. Harvested before the plant goes to flower, the thick tap root offers a tasty and nutritious treat.

Although Mullein is edible, it predominantly finds its place in medicinal preparations. The leaves, roots, and flowers are often used to create teas, infusions, and tinctures, cherished for their various health benefits.

Mullein Flower Stalk

Unveiling Mullein’s Medicinal Power

Mullein has long been a staple in folk traditions as an essential herb. Its medicinal applications date back over 2000 years when the renowned Greek physician Dioscorides recommended it for pulmonary diseases. Throughout history, Mullein has been utilized for diverse conditions such as earaches, frostbite, eczema, and respiratory ailments.

Both traditional Austrian medicine and Native American remedies have tapped into Mullein’s power to address issues ranging from skin infections and gastrointestinal troubles to respiratory and muscle complaints. Modern research has even shown Mullein’s efficacy against pneumonia, staph, and E. Coli bacteria.

Mullein Tea

Where to Discover Mullein

Mullein thrives in a wide range of regions, including Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It has also naturalized across temperate areas worldwide, from New Zealand to South America. Look for Mullein in pastures, meadows, clearings, and roadsides—anywhere with full sun and well-drained, sandy, gravelly, or chalky soils. This resilient plant can even tolerate drought and poor soil conditions.

Mullein in Waste Place

How to collect mullein seeds

To catch a glimpse of Mullein, head out during late spring and summer. Overwintered plants will produce new leaves from their taproots as the weather warms up. Although Mullein seeds germinate during this time, they typically won’t flower until their second season.

Keep in mind that Mullein seeds require exposure to light for germination. This explains why you might find Mullein plants sprouting in recently disturbed soils. Interestingly, studies have suggested that these seeds can lay dormant in the soil for up to a hundred years before sprouting forth.

Large Mullein Plant

Recognizing Mullein in the Wild

Mullein is easily recognizable, especially during its second year of growth. The plant forms a distinctive basal rosette of velvety leaves close to the ground. The second-year plants shoot up tall stems, reaching up to 7 feet in height, adorned with tightly-packed yellow flowers.

Mullein Leaves

Mullein leaves are oblong and covered in a soft fuzz, giving them a velvety appearance. The lower leaves have stalks and hug the ground, while the upper leaves are stalkless, with ridges extending down the stem.

Mullein Leaves

Mullein Stems

The wooly stems of two-year-old Mullein plants are erect and often appear white due to their dense fuzz.

Mullein Flowers

Mullein flowers are clustered tightly along the tall stem and are stalkless or possess short stalks. Typically, the flowers have five petals, five stamens, and one pistil. Depending on the species, the color of Mullein flowers may vary. Common Mullein, for instance, displays lovely yellow blooms.

Mullein Roots

Mullein develops a deep taproot and fibrous root system, allowing it to withstand harsh conditions and overwinter.

Mullein Root

Mullein Seeds

After flowering, Mullein produces small ovoid seed capsules that split open to release numerous tiny brown seeds. However, exercise caution as these seeds are toxic.

Mistaking Mullein for Others

Mullein can sometimes be mistaken for other plants such as Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina), Common Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), or Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Although these plants may bear some resemblance to Mullein, they have distinguishing features:

  • Lamb’s Ear grows in clumps, has softer silver leaves, and pinkish-purple flowers.
  • Common Evening Primrose lacks the fuzzy leaves and stems, has slender pointed leaves, and its flowers bloom in the evening.
  • Common Comfrey has less fuzz and scratchy leaves, grows shorter, and produces sprays of pink bell-shaped flowers.

Exploring Mullein’s Potential

While Mullein can be consumed in survival situations, its true potential lies in its medicinal applications. Mullein flowers can be used to create infused oil or packed in sugar to make a soothing syrup for coughs. The leaves, roots, and flowers are frequently utilized in baths, ointments, poultices, and teas. In fact, Mullein stems have historically been used to make torches or candles for survival and ritual purposes.

Notably, Native Americans even utilized Mullein seeds as a powerful fish poison, thanks to their content of rotenone, a paralytic toxin. Moreover, Mullein’s striking appearance has led to its cultivation for ornamental purposes, resulting in cultivars with even more stunning flowers.

Mullein Recipes

If you’re seeking creative ways to incorporate Mullein into your routine, consider these delightful recipes:

  • Craft your own herbal Mullein torches, perfect for fall, with simple directions from Witch in the Wood Botanicals.
  • Indulge in a quick cup of Mullein Tea with this recipe from Edible Wild Food to experience its health benefits.
  • Explore the RSV Tea Formula from The Herbal Academy, which incorporates Mullein into a blend of other teas.
  • Soothe earaches by making Mullein Flower Oil using Joybilee Farm’s recipe.
  • Create a tincture for long-term use by following the instructional video from Trillium Wild Edibles.

Foraging Mullein

In summary, Mullein is a remarkable plant that offers a wide array of culinary and medicinal possibilities. Whether you forage for it in the wild or cultivate it in your garden, Mullein is a treasure worth exploring. So, go ahead and embark on a journey to savor the unique benefits of this fascinating herb!