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 Mullein Used for Today?
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).
Oral mullein is said to be most effective when combined with other herbs of similar qualities, such as yerba santa , marshmallow , cherry bark, and elecampane , but there is no evidence to support this belief.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Mullein?
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.
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.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 07/2012 -
- Update Date: 07/25/2012 -