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Mullein Tea Is a Little-Known Brew That May Be the Best Remedy for Colds, Flu & More

Learn why doctors and nutritionists "prescribe" this healing tea to their patients during sick season

A simple caffeine-free tea that was once thought to have power over witches, evil spirits and other occult creatures is currently vanquishing coughs, colds and sore throats. Nearly 2,000 years ago Greek physician Dioscorides first recommended the herb mullein (Verbascum Thapsus), which grows like a soft fuzzy candelabra in your garden and in weedy places such as the side of railroad tracks, as a cure for breathing problems. But mullein tea benefits also include being used as an antidiarrheal treatment, a cure for colic and an ear infection soother. Read on to learn more about the ancient brew.

What is mullein tea?

You may have seen mullein tea at your local grocery store. Marketed as a respiratory health drink or lung cleanse, it’s a tasty beverage made from the leaves (and occasionally the flowers) of the mullein plant.

The mullein plan is often called Flannel leaf, Old man’s flannel, felt-wort, velvet plant, witch’s candle or beggar’s blanket, thanks to its big, soft, fuzzy leaves and striking long flowers. Ancient Romans even used its flower shafts as torches!

Mullein is a biennial plant, which means it lives for two years. However, since it drops an abundance of seeds, it’s also self-sowing. So if you have a mullein plant in your garden, you don’t need to replant it. It does it for you!

Research shows that mullein is a rich source of antioxidants including luteolin, quercetin, and verbascoside. Other studies show mullein tea can be antimicrobial and antiviral, inhibiting strep and E. coli and flu. This may be due to something called saponins, an organic chemical found in the leaves.

Related: Pu-erh Tea May Be the Healthiest Brew You’re Not Drinking: How This Ancient Sip Speeds Weight Loss & Wards Off Diabetes

What are mullein tea benefits?

dried mullein flowers; mullein tea benefits
HeikeRau / Getty

Homeopathic doctors prescribe mullein tea because it helps ease the discomfort of colds, coughs and wheezing by reducing mucus and inflammation in the respiratory system and other mucus membranes. Here are 3 uses:

1. Mullein eases a cough

“Mullen is an expectorant, and it thins out mucus to promote expectation,” says nutritionist Bevin Clare, professor and program director, Clinical Herbal Medicine at the Maryland University of Integrated Health. “That can be helpful when you have a nonproductive cough or lower respiratory congestion that you want to relieve.”

Related: The Right Throat Lozenge Can Help End Everything From Chronic Coughs to Dry Mouth — Top Doc Advises How To Choose

“We use it quite a bit during cough and cold season to help people who have a cough or cold or bronchitis or who are asthmatic because it has anti-inflammatory properties as well,” adds Geeta Maker-Clark, MD, a family physician in the NorthShore University Health System Integrative Medicine Department. “It helps the body bring up and dispel mucus so it’s very helpful for people who have bronchitis or COPD or a bad cough or a cold. “It can make the cough more productive. And then because it coats over the mucous membranes when you drink it, it’s also very soothing and healing again.” It’s also beneficial for asthma patients, she says.

2. Mullein may ward off urinary tract infections

Another study found that mullein tea made with air-dried leaves may help prevent and cure urinary tract infections. However, the study was not run on humans. Instead, scientists used a test tube and solution, so more research is needed to confirm this benefit.

Related: A UTI That Won’t Go Away May Not Be a UTI At All: The Telltale Symptom to Look For

3. Mullein heals ear infections 

Mullein leaves can also help heal and reduce the pain of ear infections, says Clare. One study found that children who used mullein-infused ear drops got better just as quickly as those who took amoxicillin. “The flowers are used for ear infections and to help with the discomfort of them. By infusing them in olive oil — often with garlic — and applying the body-temperature oil into the ear canal, it becomes a traditional remedy when antibiotics aren’t indicated or appropriate, or even concurrently with antibiotics to help with discomfort and pain.”

Related: Is Funky-Colored Ear Wax a Cause for Concern? When You Need to See a Doc

Is there anyone who shouldn’t drink mullein tea?

It is a safe and effective herb for children and adults, although there is minimal evidence-based research on mullein tea. Maker-Clark suggests that pregnant and nursing mothers talk to their doctor, midwife or herbalist before using the tea. “Pregnant women should avoid mullein as it can stimulate contractions and reduce breast milk production.”

How can I make mullein tea at home?

There are dozens of mullein tea offerings online and at supermarkets and big box stores. Popular options include Yogi Tea Breathe Deep, Buddha Teas Organic Mullein Leaf tea and Full Leaf Tea Co.’s Organic Mullein tea. If you’ve got your own mullein plant in your garden, you can make the tea yourself.

Simply pluck fresh leaves from your garden and steep the fuzzy leaves in boiling water. Experts suggest making the tea with 1 to 2 teaspoons of leaves or flowers and 1 cup of water. Let the leaves seep for ten to 15 minutes to get the most flavor and medicinal value from the drink. You may also want to strain the tea through a coffee strainer since the small hair-like features of the leaves can be irritating to some people.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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