In Anishinaabemowin, mullein is sometimes called Waabooyaanibag (blanket leaf). Its uses are blanketly more medicinal than edible. But you can eat the delicate yellow flowers too!
Mullein’s folk names include but are not limited to flannel leaf (leaves stuffed in shoes for warmth), tinder plant/torches/torch-wort, candlewick (dried stems used to be dipped in wax to make candles), and cow’s lungwort. It’s also been called tobacco going off the physical resemblance. Wearing it is said to repel evil spirits.
Going off the Internet you’d think you could just grab some of the leaves to use as tp when you’re in the woods and you’ve “gotta go”, and even munch on a leaf while you finish your business. With the itchy fine hairs on the leaves, I think I’ll pass.
Edible Uses of Common Mullein
As I would consider most parts including the leaves mainly medicinal, and since the leaf preparation is extra work due to the irritating fine hairs, I’m only going to suggest trying the edible flowers. Perhaps as a garnish?
Medicinal Uses of Common Mullein
Mullein is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Analgesic, Anodyne, Anti-Inflammatory, Antimicrobial, Antispasmodic, Antitussive, Astringent, Circulatory, Cool and Moist, Demulcent, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Emollient, Expectorant, Lymphatic, Nervine, Nervous, Respiratory, and Vulnerary. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Here’s a local plant that’s a peeping Tom of sorts. You can make of it what you will that this majestic specimen showed up in the window of a person just developing asthma. Precisely in the window that he sits in front of most of the day:
Common uses include an oil infusion for earaches, carefully strained tea for cough, and leaves smoked for respiratory issues.
Rosemary Gladstar uses mullein in many of her recipes like Cough be gone Tea, Glandular Tonic, Mullein Flower Ear Oil, and Mullein-Red clover Salve. I highly recommend her book Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use.
Alternative Uses of “Blanket Leaf”
You can make a bright yellow dye from the flowers. Add sulfuric acid and it’ll turn green, or add more alkali and it’ll turn brown.
Mullein will grow easily in rough spots like that gravelly side of a little cabin in the woods (where our peeper stood) but it prefers full sun and well-drained soil. But keep in mind it is nonnative. It could fill entire swathes of land if left unchecked, crowding out native plants. If you must grow it for medicine, be sure to harvest and keep it from going wild. For a similar look in a native plant, check out northern evening primrose.
It’s a diuretic.
The tiny hairs on mullein leaves can be irritating to sensitive skin and the throat, so the leaves need to be carefully strained in recipes or wrapped in cheesecloth when used as a poultice.
I’ve read precautions to use mullein in limited quantities, with “poisonous” thrown about to describe excessive use, with the exception of the flowers. I’ve also read that the seeds are toxic.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.