Mullein: Alien Plant that Heals

Do you remember the movie Day of the Triffids?  It is a schlocky sci-fi adventure from 1962 involving plants from outer space trying to take over the world after blinding most of the population.  In case you’d like to see it, I’ll embed it below.

common mulleinLately I’ve been seeing these strange plants popping up along our roadways and wondered what they are.  They are big.  They look alien.  They remind me of the Triffids in the movie.  So I asked my super searcher web sleuth (Marie) to see what she could find on them.  She found an excerpt from a book written by Tom Remaley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, TN.  It identifies the strange plant, which grows to be as much as 10 feet tall, to be a Common Mullein.  It is a member of the figwort family of plants which is native to Europe and Asia and is identified by the Alien Plant Working Group (I KNEW it was alien!) as one of their Least Wanted Plants here in America.

Mullein may not have the ability to pull their roots out of the ground and walk around like Triffids (although they do have very shallow root systems, so; maybe!)  Nor do they spray poisonous gas at passersby, but they seem to be almost as invasive and dangerous as Triffids: at least to meadows and forest edges.  Here they spread rapidly and choke out native vegetation.

On the flip side herbalists collect mullein – a few actually cultivate them.  

Medicinal Value of Mullein

Herbalists typically use mullein to address the following health problems:

  • upper respiratory tract infections
  • coughs
  • bronchitis
  • asthma

Certain compounds in mullein’s leaves and flowers are thought to act as demulcents (substances that calm irritation or inflammation in the skin or internal parts of the nose, mouth, or throat) or expectorants (agents for stimulating the production or secretion of phlegm).

In some cases, mullein is applied directly to the skin to help treat burns or inflammatory skin conditions.  Mullein oil is also used in ear drops for the treatment of ear infections.

Mullein was used as a treatment for tuberculosis in Europe as far back as the 16th century.  One experiment in the 19th century found that mullein improved the symptoms of six out of seven TB patients at St. Vincent’s hospital in Dublin, Ireland. Some believed that mullein, if used in the early stages of the disease, could bring about a full recovery.

Today, it is known that mullein has anti-bacterial and expectorant properties, both of which are needed in the treatment of TB.  Although it has not been studied extensively against mycobacteria, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, it has been studied against other bacteria with great success and other plants of the same species as mullein have been specifically studied against mycobacteria with positive results.

More studies are needed but the case for mullein as a natural treatment for TB is promising based on historical evidence and modern studies.


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