harvesting mullein

Harvesting Mullein: An Amazing Herbal Ally

Harvesting Mullein: Unlocking the Secrets of Nature’s Velvet Plant

Today I’m going to share some best practices for harvesting mullein, one of my favorite herbs. There’s no shortage of mullein on our homestead, which is a good thing since we harvest some every year to keep in our home apothecary where it has become an essential herb for respiratory health. 

At The Outdoor Apothecary, we honor Earth’s wisdom and the abundant gifts she offers. Mullein, rich in history and tradition, is one of these precious gifts, and I’m eager to guide you through harvesting this amazing herb.

Whether you’re an experienced herbalist or just starting your journey, learning to identify and responsibly harvest mullein will deepen your connection to natural living. We’ll cover the best times and conditions for harvesting mullein to ensure you capture the plant’s full healing properties. Every part of mullein, from its leaves and flowers to its roots, offers unique benefits.

Let’s dive into the harvesting techniques and tools you’ll need, along with the best practices for processing and preserving after the harvest. 

harvesting mullein

Introduction to Mullein

Mullein, or Verbascum thapsus, is not just a striking wildflower with its tall flowering stalk and unique look, but it’s also steeped in history and brimming with healing qualities. You might have seen it adorning roadsides, fields, or uncultivated lands, marking its evolution from a humble wildflower to a cherished herbal ally.

This plant, with roots in Europe and Asia, has become a staple in traditional healing practices worldwide. Its fuzzy leaves and sunny flowers are packed with benefits that have been tapped into for ages. 

Throughout history, mullein has been prized for its ability to soothe inflammation, calm spasms, and clear the lungs, making it a trusted remedy for respiratory issues. From teas and tinctures to poultices, its leaves, flowers, and roots have been crafted into treatments for everything from common colds to arthritis and headaches.

Today, mullein is still celebrated in herbal circles for its gentle support of the respiratory system, acting as a natural expectorant to ease congestion and promote easier breathing. Its pain-relieving qualities also make it a go-to for natural comfort and relief.

As we delve into mullein’s wonders, it’s crucial to harvest with care and sustainability, ensuring this plant continues to aid us and future generations in our healing journeys.

harvesting mullein on the homestead

Identifying the Right Time to Harvest

Harvesting mullein at the right time is crucial for maximizing its medicinal benefits. The plant’s lifecycle and the specific parts being harvested dictate the optimal harvesting period, making timing a pivotal aspect of the harvesting process.

Mullein is a biennial plant, meaning its life cycle spans two years. In the first year, the plant focuses on leaf growth, forming a basal rosette of velvety, green leaves. These leaves are at their prime for harvesting during the late spring to early summer of the first year, when they are large, vibrant, and full of active compounds.

The second year of mullein’s life cycle is marked by the emergence of its towering flower stalk, which can reach up to 2 meters in height. The bright yellow flowers, known for their soothing respiratory properties, are best harvested when they are freshly opened, typically in the morning after the dew has evaporated. This usually occurs in mid to late summer. Harvesting the flowers at this time ensures the highest concentration of medicinal properties, as the essential oils are most potent in the freshly bloomed flowers.

It’s important to note that while the leaves and flowers of mullein are commonly harvested for their medicinal uses, the roots can also be utilized. Mullein roots are generally harvested in the fall of the plant’s first year or the spring of the second year, before the flower stalk develops. The roots are known for their astringent properties and can be used in preparations aimed at addressing issues like urinary tract health.

When harvesting any part of the mullein plant, it’s essential to choose healthy, vibrant specimens free from disease or pest damage. Ensuring that the plant is harvested sustainably, leaving enough behind for natural regeneration, is key to preserving this valuable herbal resource for future use.

By paying close attention to the growth stages of mullein and harvesting at the optimal times, herbal enthusiasts and practitioners can harness the full therapeutic potential of this versatile plant.

harvesting mullein flowers large shallow basket
Harvesting mullein flowers

TECHNIQUES for Harvesting Mullein

Harvesting mullein requires a blend of traditional wisdom and practical technique to ensure the sustainability of this valuable herbal resource. Whether you’re gathering leaves, flowers, or roots, employing the right methods can significantly enhance the quality and efficacy of your mullein harvest.

  • Leaf Harvesting – When harvesting mullein leaves, it’s best to use a clean, sharp pair of scissors or garden shears. Select healthy, vibrant leaves from the base of the plant, cutting them close to the stem. It’s crucial to harvest only a few leaves from each plant to allow it to continue growing and thriving. The best time to gather leaves is in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is at its peak, ensuring the leaves retain their moisture and medicinal compounds.
  • Flower Harvesting – Harvesting mullein flowers requires a gentle touch. Since the flowers bloom sequentially along the spike, it’s possible to visit the same plant multiple times during the flowering season. Using your fingers, gently pluck the open, vibrant yellow flowers, being careful not to damage the plant. Collecting flowers in a breathable container, like a paper bag, helps prevent moisture build-up, which can lead to mold and spoilage.
  • Root Harvesting – Harvesting mullein roots involves more effort, as it requires digging around the base of the plant to gently unearth the roots. This is best done in late fall of the first year or early spring of the second year, when the plant’s energy is concentrated in the root system. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the plant and carefully lift the roots out. Shake off any excess soil and trim the roots with shears before washing them thoroughly.
  • Sustainable Practices – Sustainability is key when harvesting mullein or any wild plant. Always ensure to leave enough plants behind for natural reproduction and to support the local ecosystem. Harvesting only what you need and being mindful of the plant’s life cycle promotes a healthy, regenerative relationship with nature.

By adhering to these harvesting techniques, you can harvest and gather mullein in a way that respects the plant’s natural growth and contributes to the longevity of mullein populations in the wild. This mindful approach not only benefits the environment but also ensures that the harvested mullein is of the highest quality for medicinal use.


dried mullein in jar
Dried mullein leaf for tea

Processing and Storing Mullein

Once you’ve harvested mullein, proper processing and storage are essential to preserve its medicinal qualities. The methods you choose can significantly impact the potency and shelf life of your mullein preparations, whether you’re working with leaves, flowers, or roots.

Drying Mullein Leaves and Flowers – Drying is a crucial step in processing mullein, particularly for leaves and flowers, which are often used in teas, tinctures, and other herbal remedies. To dry mullein leaves, lay them out in a single layer on a clean, dry surface in a well-ventilated, dark room. Avoid direct sunlight, as it can degrade the plant’s active compounds. Turn the leaves every few days to ensure even drying, which typically takes 1-2 weeks.

Mullein flowers are more delicate and require gentle handling. Spread the flowers out on a fine mesh screen or paper-lined tray, ensuring they’re not overcrowded. Like the leaves, dry them in a dark, well-ventilated space, checking daily and gently stirring to promote even drying. Flowers usually dry faster than leaves, often within several days to a week.

You can also use a dehydrator to speed up the process. Set the dehydrator to 95–115°F, or 125°F if the humidity is high. Place the leaves in a single layer on the trays, making sure there is plenty of space between them. Depending on the volume and humidity, it can take one to three hours to dehydrate.

Storing Dried Mullein – Once fully dried, both leaves and flowers should feel crisp to the touch. Store the dried mullein in airtight containers, such as glass jars with tight-fitting lids, away from light, heat, and moisture. Properly dried and stored, mullein can maintain its medicinal quality for up to a year.

Processing Mullein Roots – Mullein roots, harvested for their astringent properties, require thorough washing to remove soil. After washing, chop the roots into smaller pieces to facilitate drying. The drying process for roots is similar to that of leaves and flowers, though it may take slightly longer due to their denser nature. Once dry, store mullein roots in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.

Maximizing Medicinal Properties – For those looking to use mullein in oil infusions, particularly the flowers, it’s advisable to infuse them while fresh or slightly wilted to capture their full medicinal benefits. Mullein oil, commonly used for earaches and skin conditions, should be prepared using a carrier oil and stored in a dark glass bottle in a cool, dark place.

By following these processing and storage guidelines, you can ensure that your harvested mullein retains its therapeutic qualities, ready to be used in various herbal applications. This careful attention to detail not only honors the plant but also enhances the efficacy of your natural remedies.

harvesting mullein for tea

Creative Uses of Harvested Mullein

With your mullein harvested, processed, and stored, it’s time to explore the myriad of creative ways this versatile plant can be utilized. Mullein’s unique properties lend themselves to a wide range of applications, from traditional medicinal remedies to other innovative uses.

Medicinal Preparations

  1. Herbal Teas: Mullein leaves and flowers make a soothing herbal tea, ideal for respiratory health. Steep dried leaves or flowers in hot water for 10-15 minutes to create a comforting brew that can help alleviate coughs, sore throats, and congestion. Not to forget, the often overlooked mullein roots, which when gently simmered, can offer their own unique benefits, adding a grounding touch to your herbal concoctions. They’re particularly cherished for their ability to soothe muscular and joint discomfort and ease urinary tract ailments.
  2. Tinctures: For a more concentrated form, mullein can be used to make tinctures. Soak dried mullein parts in alcohol for several weeks, strain, and use the tincture in small doses to harness mullein’s expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  3. Poultices and Compresses: Mullein leaves, known for their anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, can be used in poultices or compresses to relieve pain, swelling, or skin irritations. Fresh or rehydrated dried leaves can be applied directly to the affected area.

Wellness and Skincare

  1. Mullein Oil: Infuse mullein flowers in a carrier oil to create mullein oil, renowned for its ability to soothe earaches and skin conditions. Apply a few drops to the outer ear or use it as a gentle massage oil for inflamed skin.
  2. Natural Dyes: The vibrant yellow flowers of mullein can also be used to produce natural dyes. Boil the flowers to extract the color, which can be used in textile or craft projects for a splash of non-toxic, natural color.

Environmental Contributions

  1. Garden Companion: Mullein can be an excellent companion plant in gardens, attracting beneficial insects and pollinators with its towering flower spikes. Its deep roots can also help break up compacted soil, improving soil health.

  2. Wildlife Habitat: Allowing mullein to grow in certain areas of your garden can provide shelter and food for wildlife, including birds and beneficial insects.

harvesting mullein for medicine

Conclusion

As we conclude our exploration of the proper techniques for harvesting mullein, from the initial stages of harvesting to the inventive ways it can be integrated into our lives, it’s clear how valuable this herb is. Its ease of harvesting and wide range of uses make it a valuable addition to any herbalist’s garden or apothecary.

As you incorporate mullein into your herbal practices, let it serve as a reminder of the beauty and healing found in nature, and the importance of preserving it.

Whether you’re sipping on a cup of mullein tea to soothe a sore throat, crafting a poultice for aches and pains, or simply admiring its towering yellow blooms in your garden, mullein stands as a testament to the synergy between human wellness and the natural world.

If you don’t have access to local or homegrown herbs, I highly recommend purchasing them from Mountain Rose Herbs. They are my favorite place to buy high-quality, organic dried herbs and herbal products. As a company they believe in people, plants, and planet over profit and only ever source their herbs ethically and sustainably. It is through this ethical, responsible sourcing, that they are able to offer one of the largest selections of certified organic herbs, spices, and botanicals in North America.

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