Mullein ( Verbascum thapsus ) is an herbal import that has made itself quite at home in North America. In my home state of California, mullein is abundant, springing up in fields and along roadsides in late summer. When everything else is dry and parched, mullein is green, waving its woolly flowers in the breeze.
This lung-friendly herb produces yellow flowers on tall stalks with prickly, donkey ear-shaped leaves. It is considered by many as an invasive, non-native, noxious weed. In contrast, the herbalist recognizes mullein as a valuable tool for treating a variety of equine respiratory conditions, including inflammatory airway disease (Heaves), respiratory allergies, dry and productive coughs, and exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding).
Mullein’s leaves and flowers are used in herbal medicine. Native Americans smoked rolled mullein leaves to relieve lung congestion. Mullein is traditionally used as:
- a demulcent (relieves irritation of the mucous membranes)
- anti-tussive (suppresses or relieves coughing)
- an expectorant (loosens and clears mucus and phlegm)
Mullein is known by other names, including velvet leaf, flannel flower and woolen blanket. It can be used alone, but its effects are enhanced in formulas containing additional herbs like yarrow, elecampane and lungwort. This combination can reduce inflammation and strengthen weakened tissue. Mullein works well in combination with lung tonics and hemostatics (remedies that stop bleeding), and with Chinese herbs like San Qi ( radix notoginseng ) for performance. It is useful for race horses who bleed after exertion or do not respond well to the drug Lasix. A popular treatment with racehorse trainers in the United Kingdom is the use of a mullein and saline infusion delivered as an herbal mist with a nebulizer.
WHERE TO GET MULLEIN
Flowers and leaves of mullein are widely available on the internet from herbal suppliers, in local herb shops and health food stores. It grows wild in much of North America. To collect: Pinch off the unopened buds and new flowers (avoiding the seeds), collect the leaves from the first year’s plant (these are the large, soft leaves closer to the ground) and then dry them.
HOW TO USE MULLEIN
The fuzzy covering of Mullein leaves can be irritating to the mouth and lips. Use only well-powdered mullein directly moistened with a little water, tinctures or infusions (teas). Mullein tea should be strained through a cloth to remove any prickly hairs before adding it to your horse’s feed. One cup of strong mullein tea or 2 tablespoons of powdered herbs is an adequate amount for the average 1,000 pound horse.
Mullein leaves and flowers are on the FDA’s generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list, with no reliable reports of serious adverse effects. However, mullein seeds contain rotenone. Long-term rotenone use might be harmful, so avoid seeds just to be safe.
Gloria Garland is a Licensed Acupuncturist, Chinese Herbalist and the author of the Equine Acupressure Therapeutics Workbook Series. She lives and rides in Oakhurst, California, near Yosemite National Park. Whole Horse Herbs™, her line of herbal formulas, was developed to bring complementary herbal supplements to the equine community. She teaches hands-on classes, empowering horse owners with accurate, useful information and equine health care tools. www.wholehorse.com , 559-683-4434