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Mullein can actually refer to several plants of the genus Verbascum. In herbal medicine, the species most used is Verbascum thapsus, which is native to Europe, but has been spread through most of the world. This particular herb was once used specifically in the treatment of scrofula, or tuberculosis, as well as an everyday remedy for coughs, sore throats, and colds.
Today, you can still find this nutritional supplement in many herbal cough and sore throat medicines. Though the herb is thought safe for most people, and certainly exhibits a long history of use by a variety of cultures, it is frequently mixed with other herbs, which may not have a proven history of safeness. Most doctors who recommend herbal treatments suggest trying the herb alone if you’re trying to treat a sore throat or cough, instead of using it in a preparation that contains other herbs.
There is scientific, as well as several millennia of anecdotal evidence, that mullein does work well for coughs and sore throat. It may have mild antibiotic properties that can prevent infections, and it tends to reduce swelling in the throat, and build-up of mucus. When used in this manner, people may either opt for an elixir form of the herb, or a mullein tea. Of course, hot tea is traditionally soothing for coughs and sore throats no matter what it contains. The herb can taste bitter if you’re using it as a tea, so you might want to add some lemon or mint to cut some of the taste.
Mullein is known by a vast number of synonyms, including: Tinder plant, Quaker’s rouge, Gordolobo, donkey’s ears, candlewick, hag’s taper, Aaron’s rod, velvet plant, and flannel leaf.
The high number of synonyms can be explained by its widespread use. Plant use dates back at least to the Ancient Greeks, and was brought to the New World with the first settlers. It’s been associated not only with healing, but with a number of other practices. In the Middle Ages, through the mid 18th century, mullein was thought to repel evil spirits. Miners used mullein torches during the California gold rush and called the plant miner’s torch. It has occasionally been used as a cosmetic source. The name Quaker’s rouge derives from the practice of mullein being rubbed on the cheeks to cause a blush to appear. The herb has also been used to lighten the hair.
There are a few people who should avoid mullein. Diabetics should not use it since it may render their medications less effective. People who take lithium, or tranquilizers can become much sleepier, since the herb tends to render these medications more effective. As with any herb, you should discuss the use of this medication in any form with a licensed physician. It is classed as a nutritional supplement, and therefore is not evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration for safety, purity, or effectiveness.