Mullein is a sun-loving weed commonly found on bare hillsides, worn out fields, closely grazed pastures, fence rows that are not too overgrown, and other waste places. It cannot stand much competition, even by grass, but prospers on dry poor upland soils: clay, gravelly or
even stony ground. We carefully dug up a first-year mullein growing in an abandoned driveway. It had a stout taproot that penetrated through the crushed rock and cinders, mixed with a little dirt, into the subsoil; a few coarse lateral roots; and numerous rootlets. It was equipped to withstand a long drought and live through the coming winter.
Mullein is valuable in the treatment of such a wide range of ailments as to make the newest "wonder drug" seem inactive in comparison. Mullein is believed to possess demulcent, emollient, and astringent properties and is useful in treating both bleeding of the lungs (tuberculosis) and of the bowels. Not only is it both a sedative and a narcotic, but it can also be useful in treating cases of asthma, coughs, and hemorrhoids. Burns and erysipelas (streptococcus infections) yield to its application, as do bruises, frostbite, diarrhea, ear infections, most disease germs, and migraine. As if this were not enough-it is also useful in driving away evil spirits. This "wonder" drug is taken internally, applied locally, and even smoked, to treat these various conditions. Some of the more practical but less medicinal applications of mullein include using the yellow flowers as a blond hair dye and wearing the fuzzy leaves in the stockings to keep the feet warm.
Mullein leaves and flowers are classified in traditional herbal literature as expectorants (promotes the discharge of mucus) and demulcents (soothes irritated mucous membranes). Historically, mullein has been used by herbalists as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion. Some herbal texts extend the therapeutic use to pneumonia and asthma. Due to its mucilage content, mullein has also been used topically by herbalists as a soothing emollient for inflammatory skin conditions and burns. Mullein contains approximately 3% mucilage and small amounts of saponins and tannins. The mucilaginous constituents are thought to be responsible for the soothing actions on mucous membranes. The saponins may be responsible for the expectorant actions of mullein.