Woolly Mullein, How to Identify and Use It


"A weed is simply a plant that you don't know what to do with."
Author Unknown

How to identify and forage woolly mullein.

We have a patch of woolly mullein growing in a corner of the hayfield. While mullein is considered a common weed, it has some very beneficial uses. It's easily identifiable and easy to forage.

I love that so many herbs grow wild here on our land. Even though they're not all growing close at hand in my yard, I know where they are and that they are available when I need them.

Woolly Mullein


Woolly mullein (or "wooly" - it's spelled both ways) is also known as common mullein, great mullein, flannel mullein, velvet dock, flannel leaf, witch's taper, candlestick and other names. It grows in "disturbed places" such as roadsides, ditches, fields and abandoned areas.

There is a huge patch in a cattle pasture down the road from us where some dozer work was done a few years ago. The flower spikes are easily visible from the dirt road and I sometimes stop the car to watch the bees busily working the flowers.

How to identify and forage woolly mullein.

Mullein is a biennial, taking two years to complete its growing cycle. The large, fuzzy, sage-green leaves grow low to the ground the first year and are quite unmistakeable by their size and texture; in the second year the plant sends up a tall flowering spike that can reach six feet or more in height. Even if you couldn't identify mullein in its first year of growth, you won't be able to miss it once it sends up its flower spike with little yellow flowers.

Found throughout the United States in zones 3-9, mullein prefers partial sun and dry soil, and will continue to grow and thrive through drought years.

The plants are hard to transplant due to the very long taproot, but in spring you can find usually find seedlings near the brown stalks of last year's plants. I've successfully transplanted the small seedlings because the tap root isn't long yet. You can also gather and plant the tiny seeds in the fall.

Why you might want to plant some mullein of your own


Mullein is worth growing in your garden for the texture of the leaves and the striking flower stalks. The flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects. And wouldn't your child or grandchild enjoy stroking the soft fuzzy leaves? Nurturing a relationship between children and plants is time well spent.

How to identify and forage woolly mullein.

Besides being soft and fuzzy, mullein is also a very useful herb. Teas and ointments made from its leaves are used to treat respiratory problems, lung diseases, burns, rashes and more. The tiny hairs that make the leaves soft and fuzzy can be irritating though, so any teas must be strained and filtered carefully to remove the hairs.

Mullein can also be tinctured and taken to treat coughs and other respiratory issues.

Leaves for these purposes should be harvested during the first year of growth, according to the information I've read. In other words, if the plant has a flower spike and a tall growth habit, it's too old for this use. Look for plants with a flat growing habit and a round rosette pattern of leaves.

How to identify and forage woolly mullein.

Second-year plants are also useful though. The tiny yellow flowers on the flower spikes provide a soothing and cleansing effect on skin problems. An easy treatment for minor wounds and scrapes is to use mullein tea as a wash.

The flowers can also be infused in oil and used as a very effective treatment for ear infections. You can combine that same mullein-infused oil with beeswax to make a mild but effective ointment that prevents and treats diaper rash.

If you'd like to find out how to infuse plants in olive oil, check out this post on infusing oils for soap-making. The oil is made the same way, whether you plan to use it in soapmaking, make a salve or ointment, or use it to treat an ear infection.

How to identify and forage woolly mullein. Stock photo from morguefile.com

Foraging mullein leaves and flowers


Because the flowers are tiny and open over a period of time, it's necessary to either harvest from a large patch or to pick some open flowers daily. Remember to harvest responsibly: don't strip a patch bare by taking all the plants and/or flowers.

If you want to make tea with mullein leaves, harvest leaves from first-year plants that don't have a flower spike. You might want to use gloves since those tiny hairs on the leaves can irritate your skin. The stalks will ooze a thick liquid when they're cut, so take a bag along to carry your leaves back home in.

Have you ever noticed a mullein flower stalk that is twisted, forked or crooked? The stalks indicate the contamination level of the soil. A straight stalk indicates clean soil; if the stalks are anything other than straight and healthy, the soil is contaminated by chemicals.

Be aware of where the mullein plants are growing before you begin foraging. Plants that grow along a roadside can be contaminated by exhaust fumes from cars.

How to identify and forage woolly mullein.


Remember, before using this or any herb, please research it fully. 
You are responsible for your own health. 


How to identify and forage woolly mullein.


This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops. 
 Please visit my Blog Hops page for the links


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17 comments

  1. Great post! I have to laugh though, a friend gave me three mullein plants about five years ago and now they.are.EVERYWHERE on our property! My hubby curses them even though I tell him how useful they are! LOL!!

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  2. I love the quote at the beginning. I grew up thinking they were a noxious weed because they are everywhere. An old myth we also grew up with is that the snow depth would be equal to the tallest mullein!

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  3. As deep as the flower spikes?? That would be a LOT of snow! Thank goodness it's only an old wives' tale.

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  4. What an informational post! Thanks for sharing your herbal wisdom! I've seen this growing close to here. Now I know what it is and how to use it! Have a great week! Blessings from Bama!

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  5. I'm glad it was helpful, Felecia.

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  6. Fascinating! It just shows that there's a purpose for everything! Thanks for sharing this on The Maple Hill Hop!

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  7. Thank you, Daisy. I really enjoy your hop.

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  8. You might be a homesteader if you collect mullein seeds - love this post! Would you consider linking it up at Green Thumb Thursday? http://homesteadlady.com/green-thumb-thursday-43014/

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  9. Thank you, Tessa. I'll be right over!

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  10. I enjoyed reading this post. I have Common Mullein around my yard. In fact, one just sprouted up in the garden area and I was thinking of allowing it to grow there. Now I am curious to know if the stalk will grow straight or crooked. Guess I'll have to wait until next year to know for sure. Thank you for sharing on Green Thumb Thursday.

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  11. Darlene1:05 PM

    Hi! I'm visiting from The Heritage Homesteaders Hop.

    Thanks for all the information. I learned a few more things I didn't know about mullein.

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  12. You're welcome, Darlene. I'm glad you learned something new.

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  13. That is a really neat looking weed! I am still getting used to the native plants here in Tucson. It is hard to learn what is a weed and what isn't.

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  14. It really is interesting-looking with those big, fuzzy leaves, although as the summer goes on it gets rather untidy. It's very useful though and definitely worth having around. Thank you for stopping by, Heidi.

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  15. My mother has this taking over her property. I'll have to give her the good news that it isn't just a nuisance weed. Thanks for sharing on Green Thumb Thursday and I hope to see you again today!

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  16. Great info! I saved the URL for future reference. Now I'll be looking for some wild mullein around San Diego county ;)

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  17. I believe I saw it there years ago, Mary! I hope you can find some.

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