You can't help but run into Mullein in fields, along roadsides and sometimes as a volunteer in your own garden. Some people consider Mullein to be a weed, and yank it out when they see it. But oh, the benefits of Mullein are spectacular. The leaves are most commonly used in expectorant cough remedies. The flowers grow on the tall spikes of the Mullein plant, and are valuable infused in oil as an earache remedy, and in cough remedies and teas as well. The roots were used by some of the Native American peoples for a cough remedy. They have great value beyond that, and beyond my knowledge as well. I'm still learning, and I'm frequently thankful for how readily some of the leading Herbalists in our country share their knowledge with the rest of us. This is the first year I've collected my own Mullein Root, but I'm expecting to learn a lot from it.
Jim McDonald shared the following on Mullein Root (verbascum thapsus):
"Mullein is mostly thought of as a “cough herb”, but is, like Solomon’s Seal, among the best musculoskeletal remedies I know of. While both the leaf and root can be used, I have the most experience with, and am partial to, the root. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that Mullein works by affecting synovial fluids, though this is Matthew Wood’s hypothesis: “It has a moistening, lubricating effect on the synovial membranes… so that it is hydrating to the spine and joints. It is often indicated in back injuries. People think they are untreatable and incurable, but an increase the synovial fluids will make the spine more pliable and comfortable. The vertebra will slip back into place more readily, pain and inflammation will decrease and the condition will get better." So, that’s his thought. What I know of mullein root (Matt uses the leaves) is that it is one of the most effective means of addressing back problems caused by or resulting in misalignment. Whether or not it’s working via lubrication, Mullein Root has helped me immensely when my spine’s been kinked and I couldn’t straighten up, and I’ve repeatedly seen it work well for clients and students as well. It seems to be most effective before the muscles react to the misalignment, and I’ve seen and experienced numerous instances where a single dose allow the person (occasionally myself) to just straighten right up. I think it is specific to misalignment resulting from herniated discs, as well as in treating sciatica resulting from misalignment. In acute cases, with all the nerve and muscle reactions that go along with them it need to be used more long term and supportively with other herbs, but after the acute phase has past and the back is no longer in “crisis” mode but still weak and not wholly stable, Mullein Root on its own can be immensely helpful. I think of it among the most essential remedies to restore spinal strength and integrity. 5-15 drops is a good dose; you can also make a tea from the roots."
Two Mullein plants in my herb garden provided me flowers and tender leaves from late June to September. Once fall arrived, I determined this was the year I would dry the roots. I carefully loosened the dirt with a shovel in a circle around the plants until I was sure I could rock them out of the soil without breaking off the roots. Then I cut off the long tapers. Every hair on the roots was shaggy with soil. I hosed them off and let them dry in the shade.
I brought them in the house and washed them again in the kitchen sink, scrubbing every section with a soft brush. I let them dry as I considered how to proceed. It seemed reasonable to me to treat them like Althaea Root, which is really pretty easy to slice or pull off in strings. I was in for a surprise!
This Mullein Root is like Oak Hardwood, in comparison to any root I've harvested so far. The thinnest parts of the root were easily sliced with a sharp chef's knife. But the thicker parts of the root (1/2 inch and up) practically required a bone saw. We used a pipe cutter on some of it!
I learned later that most people harvest 1st year Mullein, which means Mullein that has not yet thrown up a hag's taper or bloomed. Once it has flowered, it is considered 2nd year, or a Bloomer, which corresponds to a very hard root. Darcy J. Williamson, From the Forest kindly responded to my blog post: Here at From The Forest we harvest the first year root as the second year root has exhausted most of its energy through the blooming and seed production of the expiring plant. We tincture the first year root fresh, and dry it when making capsules.
The tricky part is that 1st year Mullein is often difficult to even see. The leaves are at ground level and often hide in the underbrush of other plants. To avoid my mistake, keep your eyes opened and try this with first year Mullein! I'm hoping there is still enough good in the 2nd year root I harvested to use in decoctions or teas. But next year I'll be at ground level to find those first year Mulleins!
It took some time to cut up the skinnier parts of the root. I laid them on a clean dish towel to dry. I rolled and turned them every day to expose every surface to the air.
The next picture shows the root pieces after a week of air drying. They look just like wood chips, but are very light in weight, having lost much of their water already.
I allowed them to air dry for a 2nd full week, then put them in a jar for storage. As I become familiar with new ways to use Mullein Root I will add them on to this post. If you already use the roots in some of your remedies, I would love it if you'd comment with your methods and I'll share them here, with credits to you. Happy Autumn!