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.

There is 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.

Mullein 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 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 once 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.

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.

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 10-15 minutes, then strain out the plant material.

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. 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, using flowers to make the tea instead of dried leaves.

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 beeswax to make a mild but effective ointment that prevents and treats diaper rash.

You'll find sirections 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.

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 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 stalks 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 by chemicals.

Don't forage woolly mullein that is growing alongside a road, as they 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.


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  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!!

  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!

  3. 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!

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

  5. 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/

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

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

  10. Thanks for the info. Mullien leaf is also very good for lung issues when the dried herb is smoked. So many uses. God is good!

  11. I live in the country of a town on southwestern Pennsylvania and it grows EVERYWHERE here! I also have a 6, 8 and 12 year old daughters who absolutely love to be outside, most days when its nice out we have a picnic outside for lunch. A few years ago, with living in the area we do (10 feet off our back porch is about 200 acres of woods), I decided to get into learning about plants and trees (mainly because I have a long list of health problems and I'm tired of prescription medication!) so I knew what my daughters were trying to bring to me (one time my youngest brought me poison ivy not knowing! 😖 ). Behind my husband's garage was the first year plant of mullein last spring, so I dug her up and transplanted her into the raised garden bed that we have in front of my house. At first I didn't think she was going to make it but this spring she started to grow! As of 7/1/21 she is almost or at 8 foot tall and I have counted OVER 10 new flowering shoots that does NOT include the main stock! 😳
    I know a good amount about plants, their uses in the kitchen and for medicinal purposes but I'm not 100% sure if I could just take it from my yard and make something but I sure would love to!

    1. Wow, that's a prolific mullein plant, Alice! Yes, you can take the leaves and flowers from this plant and use them as medicine, as long as you haven't used herbicides, pesticides etc. I do understand that even if we *know* a lot about them, we don't always have the confidence to *use* them - but you can do it!

    2. I didn't use any herbicides or pesticides on my flower garden. My husband did throw some pig manure on it because we had some left over when we planted our garden in May. The main flower stock is almost 3 foot high I seen today! 😳 I have no clue how I am going to harvest the seeds! 😖

  12. Alice, to harvest the seeds I'd wait a few days until most of the flowers are wilting, so I'd know the pollinators have done their thing. Then I'd put a nylon stocking over the flower stalk and tie the bottom so it would catch the seeds as they fall.

    Or wait till the flowers are dying and cut the stalk, again put it in a nylon stocking or organza bag and hang it upside down to dry.

    That's a huge plant. :-)

  13. These plants have fascinated me since I first spotted them. Didn't know what they were so I called them alien plants. I collect them whenever I see them and bring them home to join the family. It's really nice to know more about them.

  14. Another great use for the leaves, known to us back-country backpackers, is that woolly mullein makes great emergency toilet paper!


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