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Mullein

Scientific Name(s): Verbascum densiflorum Bertol., Verbascum thapsus L.
Common Name(s): Aaron's rod, Adam's flannel, American mullein, Candleflower, Candlewick, Denseflower mullein, European mullein, Gordolobo, Higtaper, Lungwort, Mulleine, Orange mullein, Wooly mullein

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on May 22, 2023.

Clinical Overview

Use

Mullein has traditionally been used to treat various ailments, including cold and cough. Animal and/or in vitro data suggest anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial/anthelmintic, and antioxidant activities of various Verbascum species. Reliable clinical data describing the therapeutic effects (eg, decreased platelet aggregation) of verbascoside, a major active component of mullein, are limited and controversial. Clinical trial data are lacking to recommend use for any indication.

Dosing

Clinical data are lacking to provide dosing recommendations for mullein.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

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

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Information is limited. Occupational airborne dermatitis and contact dermatitis have been reported.

Toxicology

No data.

Scientific Family

  • Scrophulariaceae (figwort)

Botany

The Verbascum genus includes more than 300 species that are predominantly distributed in Asia, Europe, and North America.Georgiev 2011 Common mullein, found throughout the United States, is a woolly-leafed biennial plant. During the first year of 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 1.2 m or more in height. The top portion of the stem develops yellow flowers, each consisting of a 5-part corolla. These corollas, along with the stamens, constitute the active ingredient. The flowers bloom from June to September and have a faint, honey-like odor.Bisset 1994 The V. densiflorum ("denseflower mullein") species is associated with European mullein and V. thapsus is associated with American mullein products.Duke 2002, Georgiev 2011, USDA 2020

History

Mullein has a long history as a favored herbal remedy used to treat many disorders. Preparations of the plant have been ingested, applied topically, and smoked. Traditional uses include for treatment of respiratory disorders such as asthma, cold/cough, and tuberculosis. The plant has also been used in various forms to treat hemorrhoids, burns, bruises, and gout. Common mullein has been used to treat pulmonary problems, inflammatory diseases, asthma, spasmodic coughs, diarrhea, and migraine headaches.Turker 2005 The flowers have been used as a source of yellow hair dye. In the Appalachian region of the United States, the plant has been used to treat colds, and the boiled root has been administered for croup. Leaves have been applied topically to soften and protect the skin, and oil derived from the flowers has been used to soothe earaches.Boyd 1984, Duke 2002, Rodriguez-Fragoso 2008, Turker 2002

Chemistry

The chemical constituents described for various Verbascum species include polysaccharides, iridoid glycosides (eg, harpagoside, harpagide, aucubin), flavonoids (eg, 3 methylguercitin, hesperidin), saponins, and volatile oils. Phenylethanoid glycosides such as verbascoside are found in most plant parts and are of pharmacological interest.Frezza 2019 Mucilaginous constituents and thapsic acid are also found in the flowers.Alipieva 2014, Duke 1992, Turker 2002, Turker 2005, Zhao 2011

Uses and Pharmacology

Saponins, mucilage, and tannins contained in the flowers and leaves may contribute to the soothing topical effects of the plant and its use as an antitussive.Bisset 1994, Tyler 1987 Verbascoside is hydrophilic and thought to possess pharmacologically beneficial activities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antineoplastic properties, in addition to numerous wound-healing and neuroprotective properties. However, reliable clinical data describing the health effects of verbascoside are limited and controversial; results should be considered with caution, and more clinical trials evaluating its efficacy and safety should be performed.Alipieva 2014 It has been proposed that the anti-inflammatory effects of verbascoside are due to decreased levels of the proinflammatory cytokines, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin (IL)-1beta, and IL-6.Brimson 2019 In addition, it has been proposed that verbascoside inhibits nitric oxide synthesis, which may be related to antispasmodic effects.Bozkurt 2014

Antiallergic effects

In vitro data

2′,3′-dihydroxypuberulin from the South American V. thapsus L. has shown potential as an antiallergic that inhibits the expression of high-affinity receptor of IgE (FcεRI) on the surface of mast cells.Tamura 2018

Anticholinesterase/Antioxidant activity

In vitro data

AnticholinesteraseGeorgiev 2011, Kahraman 2010 as well as antioxidant activities have been described for various Verbascum species.Georgiev 2011, Kahraman 2010, Moein 2012

Anti-inflammatory activity

Animal and in vitro data

Anti-inflammatory activity has been described for extracts of various Verbascum species.Akkol 2007, Dimitrova 2012, Georgiev 2012, Grigore 2013, Kupeli 2007, Speranza 2009, Tatli 2008 Activity in wound healing has also been evaluated using extracts of various Verbascum species (eg, Verbascum mucronatum); findings among species were equivocal.Akdemir 2011, Süntar 2010 Extracts of Verbascum cheiranthifolium exhibited gastric-protective effects against ethanol-induced gastric ulcers in rats.Gürbüz 2005

Antimicrobial/Anthelmintic activity

Animal and in vitro data

In vitro activity against some viruses (influenza, herpes simplex) and common human pathogens (Klebsiella pneumonia, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Escherichia coli) has been described.Dulger 2018, Escobar 2012, Mothana 2010, Rajbhandari 2009, Turker 2002 Antitubercular and antiprotozoal activities have also been evaluated, with results partly supporting traditional uses of select Verbascum species.Ali 2012, Kozan 2011, McCarthy 2011, Mothana 2014 Eardrops containing garlic and mullein flower (V. thapsus) have been used to treat ear infections in pets.Lans 2008 Various Verbascum species have also shown potential to reduce or repel certain insects such as the cotton whitefly and the cabbage looper.Alba 2014, Hammad 2014 In a study testing V. thapsus extracts against species of worm, relative index for paralysis and death in Raillietina spiralis and relative index for death in Ascaridia galli (at high concentrations) were comparable to activity of albendazole.Ali 2012

Clinical data

A clinical trial investigated the use of naturopathic ear drops for otitis media in children; however, because the preparation contained 6 other constituents in addition to V. thapsus, conclusions regarding any single agent are not possible.Sarrell 2003

Antiplatelet activity

Clinical data

In a randomized, single-center, double-blind, phase 2 study evaluating effects of verbascoside on platelet aggregation in patients with at least 1 cardiovascular risk factor (older than 65 years, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, current cigarette use, hyperlipemia, waist circumference greater than 102 cm in males or greater than 88 cm in females), patients (N=100) were randomly assigned to receive placebo, verbascoside 50 mg, or verbascoside 100 mg for 2 weeks. Platelet aggregation was measured at baseline and after 2 weeks. Treatment with placebo or verbascoside 50 mg did not modify platelet aggregation values. However, after 2 weeks of verbascoside 100 mg, platelet aggregation values decreased significantly (from 51%±13% to 39%±15%; P<0.01 after arachidonic acid–induced platelet aggregation; and from 60%±12% to 49%±15%; P=0.01 after adenosine diphosphate–induced platelet aggregation). No serious adverse events were reported during the study, and no subjects discontinued the study because of adverse events.Campo 2015

Cancer

In vitro data

In vitro studies have been conducted to determine the cytotoxic activity of various Verbascum species, with low activity demonstrated against cancer cell lines such as Hep-2, MCF-7, Vero, and A549.Talib 2010, Turker 2002, Zhao 2011

Clinical data

There are no large clinical studies regarding the use of mullein in cancer. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study assessing the efficacy of a commercial solution containing verbascoside, polyvinylpyrrolidone, and sodium hyaluronate (Mucosyte) in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis in patients receiving chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (N=56; 5 to 18 years of age), the group receiving Mucosyte solution (n=28) experienced a statistically significant decline in oral mucositis after 8 days (P=0.0038). A statistically significant difference in pain reduction between the Mucosyte and placebo groups was observed at both 3 days and 8 days (P<0.005). Results suggest Mucosyte mouthwashes may be recommended in children with chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis as supportive therapy.Bardellini 2016

Diuretic activity

Animal and in vitro data

Diuretic action of extracts of the less explored Verbascum species Verbascum nigrum has been demonstrated in rats.Kalinina 2014 V. thapsus also demonstrated relaxant activity on rabbit jejunum in vitro.Ali 2012

Fatigue

Animal data

In a study in exercised rats, verbascoside inhibited exercise-induced increases in 5-hydroxytriptamine (5-HT) synthesis and tryptophan hydroxylase 2 protein expression and prevented exercise-induced reduction of 5-HT1B protein expression in caudate putamen as effectively as caffeine.Luo 2019

Uterine myomas

Clinical data

The effect of mullein on uterine myomas was investigated in a triple-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial that enrolled 50 women with asymptomatic uterine leiomyomas. After 8 weeks, between-group analysis found no significant difference in the mean size of the largest myoma, number of myomas, change in uterine volume, blood loss as measured by the Higham score, length of menstrual cycles, hemoglobin levels, or hematocrit values for the mullein (800 mg/day) or placebo groups. In contrast, a significant reduction in largest myoma volume and a significant increase in menstrual bleeding was observed within the mullein group but not within the placebo group.Ghassab-Abdollahi 2019

Dosing

Clinical data are lacking to provide dosing recommendations for mullein.

Pregnancy / Lactation

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

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Information is limited. Occupational airborne dermatitis and contact dermatitis have been reported for both American and European mullein in case reports.Castro 2006, Flores Echaiz 2017

Toxicology

Information regarding toxicity with mullein is limited. One study in brine shrimp and radish seed toxicity assays suggests mullein extracts are toxic at high concentrations (1,000 to 10,000 mg/L).Turker 2002

Index Terms

  • Verbascum cheiranthifolium
  • Verbascum nigrum
  • Verbascum songaricum

References

Disclaimer

This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

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