Munson Health

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Principal Proposed Uses

  • None

Other Proposed Uses

Also called "grandmother's flannel" for its thick, soft leaves, mullein is a common wildflower that can grow almost anywhere. It reaches several feet tall and puts up a spike of densely packed tiny yellow flowers. Mullein has served many purposes over the centuries, from making candlewicks to casting out evil spirits, but as medicine it was primarily used to treat diarrhea, respiratory diseases, and hemorrhoids.

What Is Mullein Used for Today?

Mullein contains a high proportion of mucilage (large sugar molecules); mucilage is generally thought to have a soothing effect. Mullein also contains saponins that may help loosen mucus. 1  On this basis, mullein has been suggested as a treatment for asthma, colds , coughs , and sore throats. However, as yet there is no meaningful evidence that it is useful for any of these conditions.
Mullein is traditionally combined with other herbs in oil preparations to soothe the pain of ear infections (otitis media, or middle ear infection, but not “swimmer’s ear,” an external ear infection), and one study provides preliminary support for this use (see next section).
As with many herbs, test tube studies have found that mullein can kill viruses on contact. 3 In addition, an interesting but highly preliminary study suggests that mullein might help certain medications used for influenza work better. 4 These findings, however, are far too scant to show that internal use of mullein will fight viral infections.
Oral mullein is said to be most effective when combined with other herbs of similar qualities, such as yerba santa , marshmallow , cherry bark, and elecampane , but there is no evidence to support this belief.

What Is the Scientific Evidence for Mullein?

Two double-blind trials enrolling a total of more than 250 children with eardrum pain caused by middle ear infection compared the effectiveness of an herbal preparation containing garlic , St. John’s wort , and calendula against a standard anesthetic ear drop product (ametocaine and phenazone). 3,5 The results indicated that the two treatments reduced pain to an equivalent extent. However, due to the strong placebo response in pain conditions, this study would have needed a placebo group to provide truly dependable evidence that the herb is effective.
Note: While herbal ear products may reduce pain, it is somewhat unlikely that they have any actual effect on the infection due to the barrier formed by the eardrum.


Tyler V. The Honest Herbal . 3rd ed. New York, NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press; 1993: 219–220.

Sarrell EM, Mandelberg A, Cohen HA. Efficacy of naturopathic extracts in the management of ear pain associated with acute otitis media. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155:796-799.

McCutcheon AR, Roberts TE, Gibbons E, et al. Antiviral screening of British Columbian medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 1995;49:101-110.

Serkedjieva J. Combined antiinfluenza virus activity of Flos verbasci infusion and amantadine derivatives. Phytother Res. 2000;14:571-574.

Sarrell EM, Cohen HA, Kahan E. Naturopathic treatment for ear pain in children. Pediatrics . 2003;111:E574-9


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