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

A first-year mullein plant growing wild in a field of grass. The plant is low-growing in its first year.

Woolly mullein is considered a common weed by most people, but it has some very beneficial uses. Learn how to identify woolly mullein and some of the many ways to use it.

How to identify and use woolly mullein

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.

Mullein is one of the easiest wild herbs to identify. You've probably noticed it along a roadside, even if you didn't know what it was.

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.

Mullein grows in "disturbed places" such as roadsides, ditches, fields and abandoned areas.

We have a mullein patch growing in the far corner of the horses' winter pasture, and another large 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 our dirt road and I sometimes stop the car to watch the bees busily working the flowers.

A young woolly mullein plant in the spring. Small plants can usually be transplanted successfully.

Mullein is a biennial, taking two years to complete its growing cycle and produce seeds.

The large, fuzzy, sage-green leaves grow low to the ground the first year and are recognizable 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 during its second year when it sends up its flower spike with little yellow flowers.

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

Adult plants are hard to transplant due to the very long taproot, but in spring you can 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.

Woolly mullein leaves are soft and fuzzy. You can see the little hairs on these leaves.

Uses for woolly mullein

Besides being soft and fuzzy and pretty, mullein is also a very useful herb. 

Mullein tea is used to treat respiratory problems and lung diseases. Ointment made from its leaves is used to soothe and heal burns, rashes and more. 

The tiny hairs that make the leaves soft and fuzzy can be irritating though, so strain and filter mullein tea carefully to remove the hairs.

Mullein tea and tinctures

Mullein tea is excellent for coughs and colds, bronchitis and other respiratory issues. 

The leaves contain an immunosuppressant that can soothe mucous membranes. Mullein leaf tea also soothes irritated skin and sore throats.

To make mullein tea, add a teaspoon of dried mullein leaves to a mug and add one cup of hot water. Let the tea steep for about 30 minutes, then strain out the plant material.

Add honey to mullein tea to make cough syrup. 

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

Learn how to make a tincture for allergy season using woolly mullein and marsh mallow in this video, or read about it here. Both are from Healing Harvest Homestead.

Some people say that the leaves for these tea and tinctures should be harvested during the first year of growth, before they send up that tall flower spike.

These soft, fuzzy, spear-shaped, sage green leaves are easy to identify as woolly mullein.

Mullein flowers

Second-year plants are also useful though. The tiny yellow flowers on the flower spikes provide a soothing and cleansing effect for skin problems. 

An easy treatment for minor wounds and scrapes is to make mullein tea with the little yellow flowers instead of dried leaves, and use it as a wash on the affected area.

Mullein flowers can also be infused in oil and used as a very effective treatment for ear infections

You can combine that mullein flower infused oil with some beeswax to make a mild but effective ointment that prevents and treats diaper rash.

You'll find directions for infusing plants in olive oil here. The oil is made the same way whether you plan to use it in soap making, make a salve or ointment, or use it to treat an ear infection.

A tall mullein flower spike of little yellow flowers - stock photo from morguefile.com

Foraging mullein leaves and flowers

Because the flowers are tiny and they open over a period of time - not all at once - 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 of the plants or flowers. 

Leave enough leaves for the plant to continue growing, and leave enough flowers to provide for pollinators and so there will be seeds for the next generation of plants.

Harvesting woolly mullein

If you want to make tea with mullein leaves, harvest leaves from first-year plants that don't have a flower spike. You may want to use gloves since those tiny hairs on the leaves can irritate your skin. 

The leaves will ooze a thick liquid when they're cut, so take a bag along to carry your leaves back home in.

Woolly mullein can indicate soil health

Have you ever noticed a mullein flower stalk that is twisted, forked or crooked? The flower 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.

Don't forage woolly mullein that is growing alongside a road, as they can be contaminated by exhaust fumes from cars.

A woolly mullein plant growing wild in a field of grass.

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."


My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at:
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