Medical Attributes of Verbascum thapsus - Mullein

By Fritz G. Delva
Wilkes University
Wilkes-Barre, PA

July, 2003

Verbascum thapsus, commonly known as mullein, belongs to the Scrophulariaceae (figwort family) (Turker et. al. 2002). It is sometimes referred to as mullein the Great, Mullein dock, velvet dock, Aaron's-rod candle wick and many more (Sievers, 1930). The word is likely a corruption of the Latin barbascum, meaning beard. This refers to the plants' beardlike filaments on its long leaves (Jaeger, 1944). One of mullein's popular names, "lungwort", derives its historic use in ancient Rome, where residents made tea to cure lung diseases in both humans and livestock.. Even today this treatment is being used in modern Ireland (DeBray, et. al. 1978). This plant is an annual, biennial, or perennial species that has a deep tap root. (Hoshovsky, 1986).

Verbascum thapsus is native to Europe and Asia (Semenza et al. 1978). The Puritans brought mullein seeds to America for their medicinal herb gardens. By the late 1630s, mullein had escaped to inhabit neighboring fields and roadsides (Gould 2002). As settlers moved west and planted new gardens, patches of mullein marked every abandoned homestead (Haughton, 1978).

The leaves and flowers reportedly contain substances having medicinal value for treating respiratory problems such as dry coughs and bronchitis (Turker et. al. 2002). A nineteen-century home remedy included dried flowers or roots of mullein used as cigarettes for asthmatics. The medication was learned from the Mohegan and Penobscot Indians who smoked dried or powdered leaves, and the Menominees who smoked roots of mullein for pulmonary disease relief (Lewis et. al. 1977). It has also been used as a substitute for tobacco in many products (Wilhelm 1974).

Other ailments treated by mullein include inflammatory symptoms, skin disorders, and tumor formations (Millspaugh, 1974). An oil produced by macerating mullein flowers soaked in olive oil inside of a corked bottle during prolonged exposure to the sun or by keeping the flowers near the fire for several days is claimed to have been used as a local application in country districts such as Germany in order to treat piles and other mucus membrane inflammatory like frostbites and bruises. The calming action of the oil is also beneficial for sinus pain (Grieve 1995).

Mullein was a traditional treatment for diarrhea and rheumatism, and ointments for bums and earaches, which are still made from its leaves in the rural mountains of the Eastern United States (Haughton 1978). In addition to mullein's usage as a great remedy for multiple ailments, it has also been used by the Asians Indians to treat migraines and cramps (Foster et. al. 2000).

Verbascum species contain saponin glycosides, which are known to break apart red blood cells although they haven't been proven to be harmful (Warashina et al. 1992). Other substances are bactericidal, so that the herb can be used to treat throat infections, tonsillitis, and infections of the stomach and intestines (Gould 2002). The extract from this flowers can be used to cleanse wounds, stem infection, and soothe nerve pain (Gould 2002).

Mullein is a valuable destroyer of disease germs (Grieve 2001). V. thapsus has been shown to be active against bovine herpes virus type 1, and has shown antibacterial and antifungal activity (McCutcheon et al. 1992, 1994, 1995). V. thapsus also contains verbascoside, which has antiseptic, anti-tumor, and immunosuppressant activity (Foster et. al. 2000). According to a study done by the department of Microbiology and Immunology in McGill University, V. thapsus has been proven to be an effective remedy for the Hepatitis B virus (Lin et. al. 2002)

In spite of the numerous uses of mullein in folk medicine, many of the medicinal uses have not been verified scientifically (Turker et. al. 2001). It appears that any of the plants belonging to the Verbascum genus can be considered as the mullein, for they all contain the same powerful healing qualities (Gould 2002).

Verbascum leaves contain rotenone and coumarin, neither of which has been completely accepted by the FDA. Hairs may cause irritation to the skin when contact is made with this plant (Foster et. al. 2000). According to the literature and other studies that have been performed on this species, no any additional harmful effects have been reported due to this plant. This is ironic, since mullein was recorded by Aristotle as a fish poison (Hoshovsky, 1986).



DeBray, L. The Wild Garden. 1978. Mayflower Books, Inc., New Yak.

Foster, S and A.J. Duke. 2000. Eastern Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York

Gould, G. 2002. Will The Real Mullein Please Stand Up. NEHA Journal.

Haughton, C. S. 1978. Green Immigrants. Harcourt Brace Jovanocich, Inc., New York.

Hoshovsky, M. 1986. Verbascum thapsus. The Nature Conservancy. California.

Jaeger, I. C. 1944. A Source-book of Biological Names and Terms (2nd Ed.). Charles C. Thomas, Springfield. IL.

Lewis, H.W and P.F. Elvin-Lewis, 1977 Medical Botany Plants Affecting Man's Health

Lin, L.T., L.T. Liu, L.C. Chiang and C.C. Lin. 2002. In vitro anti-hepatoma activity of fifteen natural medicines from Canada. Phytother Res.16:440-444.

McCutcheon, A.R., T.E. Robert; E. Gibbons; S.M. Ellis; L.A. Babuick; and G.H. Towers. 1995. Antiviral Screening of British Columbia Medicinal Plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 49:101-10.

Millspaugh, C.F. 1974. American Medicinal Plants, Dover Publishing Inc. New York, pp. 430-434.

Sievers, A.F. 1930. The Herb Hunters Guide. Misc. Publ. No. 77. USDA, Washington DC.

Turker, A. and N. D. Camper. 2002. Biological Activity of Common Mullein, a Medical Plant. J Ethnopharmacol. 82:117-25.

Warashina , T., T. Miyase, and A. Ueno A. 1992. Phenylethanoid and lignan glycosides from Verbascum thapsus. Phytochemistry. 31::961-965.

Wilhelm, G. 1974. The mullein: Plant Pesticide of the Mountain Folk Culture. Georgr. Rev. 64 (2): 235-252.

This paper was developed as part of the BIO 368 - Medical Botany course offered at Wilkes University during the summer of 2003. Course instructor was Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D. ( The information contained herein is based on published sources, and is made available for academic purposes only. No warrantees, expressed or implied, are made about the medical usefulness or dangers associated with the plant species in question.

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