Mullein extract is a concentrated oil taken from the leaves and flowers of the Verbascum thapsus plant. It is often used medicinally, either on its own or brewed into a tea, and has been credited with curing or at least alleviating a number of different health concerns. The extract tends to be most popular when it comes to easing respiratory inflammation and relieving the pain associated with earaches and ear infections. It can also have mild sedative effects and is sometimes used as a sleep aid. The plant grows naturally throughout much of Europe and Asia, and its extracts have been used in naturopathic and herbal medicine for centuries. Even though the supplement is usually considered “all natural,” it isn’t always safe for everyone. Medical experts usually recommend that anyone thinking of using this particular extract for any condition, no matter how benign it may seem, first get a consultation with a qualified healthcare provider to talk through the more personalized risks and benefits.
Verbascum thapsus is a biennial plant with large leaves and yellowish white flowers. It’s commonly known as “mullein” in many places, though it can have a number of different names; lungwort, candlewick, witch’s candle, velvet plant, grandmother's flannel, and bunny’s ears are just a few. Extracts are typically taken only from the leaves and blooms. The seeds are highly poisonous and are not used, and the roots, while dense in mineral composition, don’t typically yield much oil and can make extracts overly bitter and acidic.
The active ingredients in mullein include coumarin, rotenone, mucilage, volatile oil, saponins, gum, bitter glycosides, and flavonoids such as hesperidin. Most of these transfer to extracts, but a lot of this depends on how, exactly, the extract was prepared. The precise composition can vary from plant to plant, too. Most experts recommend purchasing prepared extract only from established manufacturers, most of whom have more or less standardized production runs and are usually willing to certify the exact levels of active ingredients in a given product.
How the Extract is Obtained
There are a couple of different ways to get mullein extract, but in almost all cases the preparer starts with leaves and flowers harvested at their peak. These are typically steeped in a blend of distilled alcohol, which breaks down the plant’s core fibers, and water, which typically repels oil and thus forces its separation.
Total steep time tends to vary based on the intended use of the resulting product, but it’s usually anywhere from a few hours to a week or more. Once the leaves and plant particulates are removed, the solution is usually boiled; the boiling concentrates the effects, and also removes the alcohol. Once this is done, the preparer will bottle the extract for use and sale.
The extract is most commonly used to treat a range of respiratory or breathing problems. Natural medicine experts sometimes advise people to create a tea-like drink by adding four of five drops of extract to a cup of hot water, then drinking it slowly; this is most common as a treatment respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, and croup. The tea may also act as an expectorant that stimulates the cough reflex. Mullein extract typically has a high mucilage content, which is soothing to the respiratory system and reduces inflammation and irritation. It is mildly sedative and is said to promote sleep, which can be very helpful for people kept up by coughing; better rest is usually one of the first things that can help the body build up the strength to fight off problems itself.
People also commonly use the oil topically, particularly as a cure for ear pain. Most of the time, people add the extract to what’s known as a “carrier oil,” usually olive or sweet almond, in order to make it more effective and to help it absorb. Extract blended with oil like this can also be used to treat swollen joints by rubbing it on the affected areas.
Risks and Common Precautions
Mullein extract has been known to cause contact dermatitis in some individuals. Its sedative effect is sometimes more pronounced in certain people, too, which can make in dangerous, particularly when taken during the day. Additionally, mullein might make anti-diabetic drugs ineffective or interfere with prescription diuretic drugs to cause a loss of potassium. In most cases it’s a good idea for anyone interested in the potential benefits of this plant to consult with a healthcare provider before starting supplementation to reduce the risk of bad interactions.