Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is a visually striking weed that has traveled across the Americas from Eurasia. It is prized as an anti-tussive herb for coughs. The leaf and flower contain a compound called mucilage that works to soothe and protect tissue it comes in contact with.

What is Mucilage?

Mucilage is slime. Mullein plants need slime to survive so they make it in abundance. Mucilage is a complex polymeric substance composed of carbohydrates and other chemicals. Dry climate plants like mullein benefit from making mucilage in order to store water within it’s leaves and flowers. The fine “hairs” on the leaf traps moisture from the air thus allowing this plant to thrive even when the roots are beyond the reach of a viable water table.  The highly branched structure that makes up mucilage expands to many times its size to form cage-like structures as it absorbs water. This is a hyphophilic property that herbalists need when working with dry coughs.

Mullein for Coughs

The mucilage in mullein works in a variety of ways. It coats sore, dry throats. It travels to the the esophageal wall and reduces irritation which removes the stimulus prompting the cough itself. Although more needs to be studied, scientists have evidence that the cough reflex is moderated by the vagus nerve. The plant-based mucus reduces acidity in the esophagus which, in turn, keeps the vagus nerve from sending signals to spasm.

Mucilage is not easily digested. This means that as it continues through the body, it serves as a prebiotic to help encourage complete digestion thus supporting the immune system. It works in conjunction with the iridoid glycosides that are anti-inflammatory to ease the pain associated with chronic coughs. This, along with flavonoids and expectorant saponins work together to make mullein a top choice for easing dry chronic coughs.

Contraindications for Mullein

Mullein is generally considered safe for use. There is no evidence that it is contraindicated for any condition or with any medication. Some people do experience some skin irritation when handling the leaves. During pregnancy, be sure to talk to your certified healthcare provider before adding it to your health regime.

Further Research

Science Direct – Mucilage

Scientific Review – Traditional Uses and Biological Activities of Verbascum Species

Research Gate – Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus L.): recent advances in research

NCBI: Approach to chronic cough: the neuropathic basis for cough hypersensitivity syndrome