Verbascum thapsus

Verbascum thapsus (Great or Common Mullein) is a species of mullein native to Europe, northern Africa and Asia, and introduced in the Americas andAustralia.

It is a hairy biennial plant that can grow to 2 m or more tall. Its small yellow flowers are densely grouped on a tall stem, which bolts from a large rosette of leaves. It grows in a wide variety of habitats, but prefers well-lit disturbed soils, where it can appear soon after the ground receives light, from long-lived seeds that persist in the soil seed bank. It is a common weedy plant that spreads by prolifically producing seeds, but rarely becomes aggressively invasive, since its seed require open ground to germinate. It is a very minor problem for most agricultural crops, since it is not a very competitive species, being intolerant of shade from other plants and unable to survive tilling. It also hosts many insects, some of which can be harmful to other plants. Although individuals are easy to remove by hand, populations are difficult to eliminate permanently.

It is widely used for herbal remedies with emollient and astringent properties. It is especially recommended for coughs and related problems, but also used intopical applications against a variety of skin problems. The plant was also used to make dyes and torches.


Great Mullein has been used since ancient times as a remedy for skin, throat and breathing ailments. It has long had a medicinal reputation, especially as anastringent and emollient, as it contains mucilage, several saponinscoumarin and glycosidesDioscorides recommended it for diseases of the lung and it is now widely available in health and herbal stores. Non-medical uses have included dyeing and making torches.

Medical uses

Dioscorides first recommended the plant 2000 years ago, against pulmonary diseases,[66] and this has remained one of its primary uses, especially againstcough. Leaf decoctions or herbal teas were used for expectoration, consumption, dry cough, bronchitis, sore throat and hemorrhoids. Leaves were also smoked against pulmonary ailments, a tradition that in America was rapidly transmitted to Native American peoples.[27][67] They used the non-indigenous plant to make syrups against croup. The combination of expectorant saponins and emollient mucilage makes the plant particularly effective for cough. All preparations meant to be drunk have to be finely filtered to eliminate the irritating hairs.[48]

Oil from the flowers was used against catarrhscolics and, in Germanyearachesfrostbiteeczema and other external conditions.[27] Topical application of various V. thapsus-based preparations was recommended for the treatment of warts,[68] boilscarbuncles, hemorrhoids, and chilblains, amongst others.[27][67] Recent studies have found that Great Mullein contains glycyrrhizin compounds with bactericide and potential anti-tumoral action. These compounds are concentrated in the flowers.[69] Different extracts have varying levels of efficiency against bacteria.[48] The German Commission E sanctioned medicinal use of the plant for catarrhs.[70] It was also part of the National Formulary in the United States[67]and United Kingdom.[27] The plant’s leaves, in addition to the seeds, have been reported to contain rotenone, although quantities are unknown.[71]

Other uses

Like many ancient medicinal plants (Pliny the Elder describes it in his Naturalis Historia),[note 5] Great Mullein was linked to witches,[27] although the relationship remained generally ambiguous, and the plant was also widely held to ward off curses and evil spirits.[27][48][66][67] The seeds contain several compounds (saponins, glycosides, coumarin, rotenone) that cause breathing problems in fish, and have been widely used as piscicide for fishing.[7][73]

The flowers provide dyes of bright yellow or green, and have been used for hair dye.[27][71] The dried leaves and hair were made into candle wicks, or put into shoes to help with insulating them. The dried stems were also dipped into suet or wax to make torches.[27][67] Due to its weedy capacities, the plant, unlike other species of the genus (such as V. phoeniceum), is not often cultivated.

{Information courtesy Wikipedia}