Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mullein: Surprising Herbal Uses from France

Mullein is well loved by herbalists. Its ability to heal many different ailments is astounding. Amazing to think that some people revile this herb and disdainfully call it a weed! 

In this article we’ll be looking at traditional French uses of this beloved plant. 

Studying the way other cultures use our favorite plants is a great way to expand our understanding of how these plants can be used for our health. Our herbal intensive in France will include several field trips where we will get to see many of our favorite plants growing in their natural habitat and learn about their traditional French uses. We’ll see herbs like rosemary, mullein, thyme and savory - just to name a few.

Mullein - Botanically Speaking

In North America we most often use the species Verbascum thapsus. In France there are about six different species that are used. 

The French word for mullein is Bouillon Blanc, which literally translates as white broth. The plant has been used medicinally since antiquity with many varieties being used.

Verbascum densiflorum

Mullein is a biennial plant, meaning that the first year it puts out a basal rosette of leaves. 

In the second year of growth it produces a flower stalk, goes to seed and then dies. The French call the flower stalk  “le doigt de notre-dame” or our lady’s finger. 

Christophe shared with me that the dried flower stalks lend themselves well to being swords. He says he couldn’t resist using these stalks in sword playing when he was a child. He told me that Matt Wood told him he also used mullein stalks as a sword as a child as well. That enticing sword play most likely spread many seeds, and thus mullein plants, around the playing field! 

Here are some lesser-known traditional uses of mullein. Thanks to Christophe for sharing this information with us! 

Mullein growing besides a chateau in France

The traditional uses of mullein in Provence, France

It is often considered to be a "soothing herb", emollient and bringing fluid to the area, calming inflammation. 

Used for painful and swollen breasts by making a poultice of the leaves around the breasts.

Used for hydrarthrosis, which is an accumulation of fluids in a joint. To use, you make a poultice of the leaves around the joint - knees in particular. One recipe calls for powdering the leaves and making a paste with lukewarm water, then applying the paste around the joint. It was also used for horses suffering from hydrarthrosis. 

Veterinarian use for dysentery of the sheep: infuse 1 handful of fresh flowers in a quarter of a liter of water. Have them drink this tea 3 times a day. 

For hemorrhoids, macerate flowers in warm milk, make a paste and apply locally.

For a common cold, make a tea of the flowers to calm inflammation of throat and lungs (although today we would go for the leaves in those cases, the old folks preferred the flowers). In Maurice Messegue’s book, the Health Secrets of Plants and Herbs, he also says the flowers are much stronger in action than the leaves. 

Very often used for colicky children and for diarrhea, especially if it happened during the summer.  

Mullein was often said to be good for the lungs. The remedy was not a tea like we are used to, but instead as a poultice of the leaves on the chest.

Here’s an old herbal formula to take in the evening to calm the nerves: Mix equal parts of Mullein, St. John’s Wort and Thyme and prepare as a tea. 

Christophe’s favorite mullein recipe

Infused Mullein Milk

This recipe infuses the flowers of mullein in warm milk with honey. This calming infusion is perfect for children's sore throat and irritated coughs


Put some whole milk in a pan, and cover with fresh or dried flowers of mullein. 

Very gently heat this up until the liquid is barely hot. 

Stop the heat, let sit for 15 minutes. 

Then heat it up again gently until barely hot, add the honey, stir, strain and serve.

This is not only a yummy brew but is also quite soothing as well. Prepare a cup and have the kids drink by sips whenever the throat tickles or they feel like coughing. 

Christophe recommends using lavender-infused honey for this recipe! Learn more about little known uses of lavender here. 


I hope you learned a few new ways to use this wonderful plant. As our herbal movement grows it’s important to evaluate ancient uses of plants to expand our use of our favorite plants. That way we don’t get stuck using plants in limited ways! 

We’ll be exploring French traditional uses of our favorite plants in our herbal intensive, which takes place in May of 2014 in the beautiful region of Provence, France.