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Mullein (Verbascum [Latin]), also called velvet dock, flannel leaf or plant, feltwort, Aaron’s rod, shepherd’s staff, and lungwort, is easily identified in the wild by its big, soft leaves. Many of the names used to identify this plant refer to its velvety texture; however, the name lungwort reflects mullein’s traditional use as a treatment for relieving cough and congestion of those with minor respiratory ailments. Mullein is recommended by herbalists for treatment of cough, sore throat, and colds.

When combined with water, the fiber in mullein produces a slippery substance called mucilage, which coats and soothes the throat and intestine (mullein is traditionally used to treat diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset as well). Some laboratory studies have shown that mullein inhibits the growth of tuberculosis bacteria, which may be where it got its reputation as a treatment for this disease.

Studies have shown that mullein has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that, when combined with soothing mucilage, may help relieve hemorrhoid symptoms. Topical compresses made from mullein infusions have also been used to treat inflamed cold sores and herpes; in one study, mullein seemed to help eliminate the herpes virus.

Mullein is widely available in the wild, and is easily identified by its spike of yellow flowers and huge, sometimes over a foot long, leaves. The leaves, flowers, and roots of this plant are edible and easy to dry, and may be used to make your own herbal medicines. However, mullein seeds are poisonous, so do not use them in any herbal preparation, whether intended for oral or topical use.

Steep approximately 2 teaspoons of dried mullein plant in a cup of hot water for an infusion to treat cough, congestion, or diarrhea. Drink three cups of hot mullein tea a day until symptoms disappear, or store the tea in the refrigerator to make a soothing infusion for treatment of hemorrhoids and cold sores. You can also find commercial extracts containing mullein in most health food stores.

There have been no toxic effects associated with mullein, but some people might get an upset stomach when taking this herb.

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