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Relieves coughs, reduces congestion, eases indigestion, soothes stings and scrapes

Mullein (rhymes with sullen) is generally considered a minor medicinal herb. But James A. Duke, Ph.D., a botanist retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and author of The CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, laments this status: "I'm a real believer in mullein," he explains. "Once my wife and I returned from a trip to China, and we both had bronchitis. She went to the doctor and did what he said. I took mullein tea. My bronchitis cleared up before hers did."

Mullein grows almost everywhere, and its velvety leaves, rodlike stem and striking yellow flowers are hard to miss. Mullein has a long history in herbal medicine. Its botanical family name — Scrophulariaceae — is derived from scrofula, an old term for chronically swollen lymph glands, later identified as a form of tuberculosis. Early on, this herb gained a reputation as a respiratory remedy. And physicians from India to England touted it as a remedy for coughs and chest congestion.

In a 1986 survey of folk medicine in Indiana, Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D., professor of pharmacognosy at Purdue University School of Pharmacy in West Lafayette, Indiana, and author of The Honest Herbal, discovered that the herb remains "very popular" for respiratory complaints. Dr. Duke is not the only herb expert to value mullein. Daniel B. Mowrey, Ph.D., director of the American Phytotherapy Research Laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah, and author of The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine, says it soothes not only the respiratory tract but also the digestive system: "It's a shame there's been so little research on mullein. I think it's very valuable. For stings and scrapes while hiking, for example, crush a few leaves in your hand and apply it on the wound as a poultice. It's very soothing." However, like any hairy plant, mullein has the potential for being irritating. It is not likely that irritation will occur, but discontinue use if it does.

Putting the herb to work

To brew a medicinal tea, use 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried leaves per cup of boiling water. Steep for ten minutes. Drink up to three cups per day. Mullein tastes bitter, so you might want to add sugar or honey and lemon, or mix it into an herbal beverage blend. In a tincture, take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon up to three times a day. There have been no reports of mullein causing adverse effects.

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