Mullein

Scientific Name(s): Verbascum thapsus L., V. phlomoides L., V. thapsiforme Schrad. Family: Scrophulariaceae

Common Name(s): American mullein , European or orange mullein , candleflower , candlewick , higtaper and longwort 1

Uses

Mullein has expectorant and cough suppressant properties that make it useful for symptomatic treatment of sore throat and cough. Antiviral activity of mullein has been reported against herpes simplex type I virus and influenza A and B strains.

Dosing

There is no recent clinical evidence to support specific dosage of mullein; however, classical use of the herb was at 3 to 4 g daily. 2

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

No adverse effects have been reported.

Toxicology

Research reveals no reports of serious toxicities with mullein.

Botany

The common mullein, usually found throughout the United States, is a woolly-leafed biennial plant. During the first year of its growth, the large leaves form a low-lying basal rosette. In the spring of the second year, the plant develops a tall stem that can grow to 4 or more feet in height. The top portion of the stem develops yellow flowers consisting of a five-part corolla. This, along with the stamens, is what constitutes the active ingredient. The flowers bloom from June to September and have a faint, honey-like odor. 3 Electron microscopy performed on V. thapsus reveals distinctive pollen grains and trichomes, which may be helpful for identification purposes. 4

History

Mullein boasts an illustrious history as a favored herbal remedy and, consequently, has found use in all manner of disorders. Its traditional uses have generally focused on the management of respiratory disorders where it was used to treat asthma, coughs, tuberculosis and related respiratory problems. However, in its various forms, the plant has been used to treat hemorrhoids, burns, bruises and gout. Preparations of the plant have been ingested, applied topically and smoked. The yellow flowers had once been used as a source of yellow hair dye. In Appalachia, the plant has been used to treat colds and the boiled root administered for croup. Leaves were applied topically to soften and protect the skin. An oil derived from the flowers has been used to soothe earaches. 5

Chemistry

Few compounds with known therapeutic effects have been identified in the plant. Compounds include saponins, mucilage and tannins.

In a report on V. thapsus , luteolin glycoside was identified for the first time. 6 Using spectroscopic methods and chemical evidence, five phenylethanoid glycosides and one lignan glycoside were found in addition to three known phenylethanoid glycosides and four lignan glycosides. 7

Saponins from V. songaricum were identified in European studies, reporting triterpene saponins from the aerial parts, 8 songarosaponin D based on spectral evidence 9 and songarosaponin E and F, the newest triterpenoid saponins. 10 Saponins from V. nigrum , a related species, are also reported. 11

Also from European reports, iridoids from V. sinuatum and V. olympicum have been identified. New iridoid diglycosides have been isolated and described. 12 , 13 , 14 , 15

A Czechoslovakian report on V. pseudonobile Stoj. et Stef., first identified (E)-cinnamamide. 16 A German study characterizes water-soluble polysaccharides from V. phlomoides L. 17 The content of verbacoside is reported in six Verbascum species growing in Poland. 18 Fatty acids from V. phlomoides and V. thapsiforme are reported in another Polish study, 19 along with sterols from the essential oils of these species. 20 Another related plant, V. lasianthum , yields hydrocarbons, ketone alcohols, beta-sitosterol and a triterpenic alcohol. 21

Uses and Pharmacology

The flowers and leaves are used medicinally. The saponins, mucilage and tannins contained in the flowers and leaves likely contribute to the soothing topical effects of the plant. Similarly, some of these compounds have demulcent properties that may make them useful for the symptomatic treatment of sore throats. 22 The mild expectorant action of the saponins also supports use of mullein for the relief of coughs. It is included in many mixed teas for use as an antitussive. 3

The ganglionic-blocking effect of V. nobile Vel. has been described. 23

Antiviral activity of mullein has been reported in two studies. In the lyophilized infusion obtained from Verbascum thapsiforme flowers, activity against herpes simplex type I virus was evaluated in vitro. A decrease in virus titer and inhibition of viral replication by mullein were demonstrated. 24 Another study confirms and evaluates antiviral activity in vitro against Fowl plague virus and influenza A and B strains. 25

Dosage

There is no recent clinical evidence to support specific dosage of mullein; however, classical use of the herb was at 3 to 4 g daily. 2

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Plants from the genera Verbascum and Senecio have been given the common Spanish name senecio, and may cause some confusion. No adverse effects have been reported from the use of Verbascum or its extracts. 26

Toxicology

Research reveals no reports of serious toxicities with mullein.

Bibliography

1. Bianchini F, et al. Health Plants of the World, A Mondadori, Milan, 1975.
2. Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs . Boston, MA: American Botanical Council, 1998.
3. Bisset N. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals . Stuttgart, Germany: CRC Press 1994;517-19.
4. Fillippini R, et al. International Journal of Crude Drug Research 1990 Jun;28:129-33.
5. Boyd EL, et al. Home Remedies and the Black Elderly. Univ. of Michigan, 1984.
6. Mehrotra R, et al. J Nat Prod 1989 May-Jun;52:640–43.
7. Warashina T, et al. Phytochemistry 1992;31(3):961-65.
8. Seifert K, et al. Phytochemistry 1991;30(10):3395-400.
9. Hartleb I, et al. Phytochemistry 1994;35(4):1009-11.
10. Hartleb I, et al. Phytochemistry 1995;38(1):221-24.
11. Klimek B, et al. Phytochemistry 1992;31(12):4368-70.
12. Bianco A, et al. Planta Med 1981 Jan;41:75-79.
13. Falsone G, et al. Planta Med 1982 Mar;44:150-53.
14. Bianco A, et al. J Nat Prod 1984 Sep-Oct;47:901-2.
15. Girabias B, et al. Herba Polonica 1989;35(1):3-8.
16. Ninova P, et al. Cesk Farm 1984;33(2):66-67.
17. Kraus J, et al. Deutsche Apotheker Zeitung 1987 Mar 26;127:665-69.
18. Klimek B. Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica 1991;48(3-4):51-54.
19. Swiatek L. Herba Polonica 1984;30(3-4):173-81.
20. Swiatek L. Herba Polonica 1985;31(1-2):29-33.
21. Ulubelen A, et al. Planta Med 1975;27:14.
22. Tyler VE. The New Honest Herbal, GF Stickley Co, 1987.
23. Krushkov I, et al. Nauchni Trudove Na Visshiia Meditsinski Institut , Sofiia 1970;49(4):19-23.
24. Slagowska A, et al. Pol J Pharmacol Pharm 1987;39(1):55-61.
25. Zgorniak-Nowosielska I, et al. Arch Immunol Ther Exp 1991;39(1-2):103-8.
26. Kay M. Herbalgram 1994;32:42-45, 57.

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