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The mullein plant has been around for thousands of years. The plant is found in many parts of the world, including the United States, and has more than 200 species.

The most popular type commercially used is common mullein (Verbascum thapsus). The leaves are harvested near the bottom of the plant and used either fresh or dried to make various products.

Among the many herbal products

Herbal medicines have been around for more than 5,000 years and are still very popular around the globe. According to the American Botanical Council, the U.S. herbal product market surpassed $7 billion in sales in 2016.

Healthline

Mullein oil is extracted from the flower or leaves of the plant. The oil is used as a remedy for earaches, eczema, and some other skin conditions.

One older study showed some benefit for ear pain based on a trial of 171 children between 5 and 18 years old with an ear infection. They were given antibiotics or herbal drops with or without a topical anesthetic.

Researchers found the herbal drops reduced pain. They also pointed out that they cost less than antibiotics and didn’t have any side effects.

Mullein oil two ways

Mullein oil can be made from either fresh or dry parts of the plant by either hot (active) or cold (passive) processing:

  • Hot oil infusion. This process involves using a double boiler technique to gently heat a carrier oil, such as olive oil, with mullein leaves or flowers for up to 3 hours. Then the product is strained and stored.
  • Cold-steeped oil. The cold process usually involves steeping dry flowers or leaves in carrier oil for 7 to 10 days.

Mullein oil is also available online and at health food stores ready-made.

caution

Some people are sensitive to the plant and can have allergic reactions or skin irritation with topical use.

Ear pain or infection can be serious. If you plan to use mullein oil, be sure to speak to a doctor first.

For centuries, mullein flowers and leaves were used on animals and people for a variety of issues, including:

By the late 1800s, mullein became a popular treatment for people with tuberculosis in Europe, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Keep in mind that many of the benefits of mullein are based on anecdotal experiences. More human clinical studies are needed to understand the benefits of this herb.

There are many different Verbascum species, and studies show many have polyphenols. These compounds can have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Some active compounds of mullein include:

  • saponins, which have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and antitumor properties
  • flavonoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
  • phenylethanoid glycosides, which have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties
  • iridoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties

Antiviral properties

Some lab studies have shown Verbascum species to have antiviral activity against influenza A and herpes.

One laboratory study found combining the medication amantadine with mullein increased antiviral activity against influenza.

Antibacterial properties

Lab studies have shown mullein leaf has antibacterial properties in both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, including:

  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • E. coli
  • Staphylococcus aureus

Mullein leaf is sold in various forms, such as:

  • tea
  • extract
  • oil
  • powder
  • capsule
  • elixir

The dried and natural forms (of the leaf or flower) are also used to make creams.

Some naturopathic physicians and herbalists recommend mullein for respiratory and inflammatory conditions, but currently there’s not enough scientific evidence of its effectiveness.

More human studies are needed to confirm the efficacy of traditional uses.

Based on anecdotal evidence and published studies, there are no reports of major side effects from mullein.

Some species of mullein may cause contact dermatitis, a skin reaction that can cause itching, rash, and irritation. If you have sensitive skin or are prone to allergic reactions, be sure to do a patch skin test before using mullein on your skin.

There’s no information on safety for use during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or in infants and very young children. Talk to your doctor before considering mullein leaf if any of these apply to you.

Bacterial or viral infections can pose serious health risks. Before self-treating these infections with mullein leaf, consult your doctor.

If you have any serious chronic health conditions, talk to your doctor about the safety of mullein leaf for you.

In the United States, botanical or herbal products don’t have to go through Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval before they’re sold to consumers.

Because of this, manufacturers aren’t required to show the potency or efficacy of botanical or herbal products.

To uphold public safety, the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act, passed in 1994, gives the FDA the authority to regulate supplements. And in 2007, new good manufacturing practice rules were added for consumer safety.

Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of products, it’s difficult for the FDA to effectively monitor all supplements on the market.

A 2018 report by the World Health Organization stated that 64 percent of their member states had policies and regulations in place for herbal medicines.

Even fewer members, including the United States, had regulations equal to those implemented for pharmaceutical products.

Why does this matter?

“Natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe. Herbal products can’t make any health claims to “diagnose, treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent any disease.”

Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when buying herbal products:

  • Look for brands with current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) and U.S. Pharmacopeia Convention (USP) quality seals.
  • Before buying an herbal product, talk with your doctor or pharmacist to avoid potential interactions or adverse reactions.
  • Ask your pharmacist for guidance and recommendations on trusted products.
  • Look for evidence-based studies that show proven safety and efficacy.
  • Check with the manufacturer about ingredient safety and quality.

Sometimes herbal products are contaminated with harmful ingredients, such as heavy metals like lead, arsenic, or mercury. This is especially true of supplements taken orally and manufactured in countries with looser regulations.

Herbal products may also be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or fungi that can make you sick, especially if you have a compromised immune system.

Whether it’s a calming tea or soothing balm, herbal medicines may offer some real benefits.

Mullein has been around for thousands of years. Its leaves and flowers have been used for several conditions, including cough and other respiratory conditions.

It’s available as tinctures, teas, capsules, and elixirs. It’s generally considered safe with few reports of side effects.

Mullein oil has been used for earaches and some skin conditions.

Research has been done on the potential benefits of mullein, but most of the studies are done in the laboratory. Not enough human studies show the therapeutic effects of this herb.

When considering herbal products such as mullein, bear in mind that quality, purity, and potency standards for dietary supplements can vary greatly.

If you’re interested in mullein leaf, ask your doctor or pharmacist for guidance on trusted brands, safety, and effectiveness.