Everyone has their favorite home remedies to help cure colds and other respiratory ailments: zinc for a sore throat, vitamin C to boost immunity, and chicken soup for everything.
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Now you can add mullein to the list. This herb has been used for hundreds of years to relieve respiratory problems.
But does it really work? Specialist in functional medicine Sobia Khan, MD, shares the benefits of mullein and the challenges of finding a quality product.
What is torch?
I have a lot of Spanish, commonly known as mullein, is a member of the snapdragon family. It is considered a weed by some and a godsend by others.
Mullein grows in the United States, but is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and Dr. Khan says different parts of the plant have different beneficial properties. Native Americans and settlers used it for a variety of medicinal purposes, from aiding coughs and breathing to healing wounds.
They used to do:
- Smoke the leaves.
- Make a cough syrup from boiled carrots.
- Apply the leaves in a paste to the skin.
- Rub the leaves over the inflamed skin.
Mullein’s Uses and Health Benefits
According to dr. Khan’s torch still has practical uses. It is useful for any lung condition that can lead to inflammation or infection. Before antibiotics, it was a go-to herbal remedy for:
Today it is more commonly used for less serious conditions, such as:
In natural stores you will find mullein extracts, capsules, oils and teas. If you have difficulty breathing, take mullein by mouth. People often drink mullein tea – a cup of tea of any kind is soothing and mullein can provide health benefits. You can also take a mullein capsule, extract or oil. Mullein benefits your respiratory tract in several ways – especially in fighting disease:
1. Loosens mucus
Mullein is an expectorant, a substance that thins phlegm (phlegm) and makes it easier to cough up. Expectorants help break down mucus to get it out of your system.
“It’s always good to get mucus out of your airways,” says Dr. Khan. “If mucus remains in the lungs, it can form thick plugs that block airflow — and in severe cases, it can lead to lung collapse.”
2. Soothes inflammation
If you have lung and throat problems, using mullein may relieve some of your discomfort. The flowers and leaves contain mucilage, which coats the mucous membranes (the moist linings in your airways) with a film, reducing inflammation.
Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, ointments and oils containing mullein may also help relieve pain and irritation from skin wounds.
3. Protects cells
Mullein contains antioxidants, including vitamin C and flavonoids (substances found in fruits and vegetables). Antioxidants protect cells from free radicals, unstable molecules that damage your cells.
A research paper highlights this benefit, showing that mullein extract in combination with alcohol was 85% effective in protecting cells from damage. Since mullein has antioxidant properties, it strengthens your body’s natural defenses.
4. Fights germs
Mullein has antiseptic properties, meaning it prevents the growth of germs. One study found it to be effective in fighting pneumonia, staphylococcus and E coli bacteria.
Other research indicates that mullein also has antiviral properties and may even slow down the flu virus. Using mullein when you have a cold or flu can help you beat the infection faster.
Using mullein tea for lung health
You can use mullein tea or other forms of the herb to improve lung health and reduce symptoms of respiratory disease. It has a long history of use and little to no side effects. But the challenge is finding a source that produces a pure, effective product.
“In the US, it’s not manufactured in a standardized way like in European countries like Germany,” says Dr. Khan. “That makes it difficult to find effective formulas here.”
What are the side effects of mullein?
If you apply high potency mullein directly to your mucous membranes or to your skin, you may experience a skin reaction. “However, when it’s diluted, it usually doesn’t cause any side effects,” says Dr. Khan. “To date, there have been no reports of adverse reactions or toxic side effects from mullein.”
The biggest risk is that herbal supplements don’t go through the same rigorous testing as medications. So it is important to make sure you are using a pure quality product.
“Look for reputable brands that state they’ve been third-party tested so you can trust what’s in the bottle,” advises Dr. Khan,” and stay within the product’s dosage recommendations. Most importantly, before taking any supplements, always discuss them with your doctor.