FWD 2 Expanded Commission E: Mullein flower

Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E

Mullein flower

Latin Name: Verbascum densiflorum
Pharmacopeial Name: Verbasci flos
Other Names: large-flowered mullein


Great mullein (Verbascum thapsus L.), orange mullein (V. phlomoides L.) and large-flowered mullein (V. densiflorum Bertol., syn. V. thapsiforme Schrad.) are biennial plants native throughout Europe, northern Africa (Egypt) and Ethiopia, and temperate Asia as far as the Himalayas (Grieve, 1979; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994). In India, it grows wild in the temperate Himalayas from Kashmir to Bhutan (Nadkarni, 1976). The material of commerce comes mainly from cultivated sources in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Egypt (BHP, 1996; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).

Both the leaves and the flower of mullein have been used as medicine since ancient times. Mullein preparations were used during the Middle Ages as a remedy for skin and lung disease in cattle and humans. By the end of the nineteenth century, mullein was given in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States to tuberculosis patients. Its actions on the lungs are demulcent and emollient (Grieve, 1979). Nineteenth century Eclectic physicians used mullein for inflammatory diseases of the respiratory and genitourinary tracts and the ear canal (Ellingwood, 1983). It is still prescribed today by naturopathic physicians and medical herbalists as a treatment for chronic otitis media and eczema of the ear (Caradonna, 1997; Winston, 1997).

In Germany, mullein flower is approved in the Commission E monographs, listed in the German Drug Codex, and it is also used as a component of various cough and bronchial tea medicines (BAnz, 1998; DAC, 1986; Schilcher, 1997; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994). For example, it is a component of Kneipp Husten-Tee (cough tea) and Salus Bronchial-Tee (bronchial tea) (Wichtl and Bisset, 1994). In German pediatric medicine, mullein flower is used as a component of various herbal tea mixtures indicated to treat cough with viscid expectoration (productive cough). For example, the cough tea mixture Species pectorales DAB 6 is composed of 40% althea root (Althaea officinalis), 20% licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), 20% coltsfoot leaf (Tussilago farfara), 10% mullein flower, and 10% anise seed (Pimpinella anisum) (DAB 6, 1951; Schilcher, 1997). In the United States, mullein flower became official in the fourth edition of the U.S. National Formulary, as a component in pectoral remedies, but has been removed from its official status due to a lack of therapeutic validation (Tyler, 1993).

The approved modern therapeutic applications for mullein flower in Europe are supportable based on its long history of use in well established systems of traditional and conventional medicine, phytochemical investigations, in vitro studies, and pharmacological studies in animals. Mullein flowers have demonstrated antiviral action, in vitro, against fowl plague virus, several strains of influenza A and B, and herpes simplex virus (Slagowska et al., 1987; Zgorniak-Nowosielska et al., 1991), and both flowers and leaves possess mildly demulcent, expectorant, and astringent properties. Expectorant actions may be due to the plant's saponin content (Tyler, 1993), its actual mucilage content is a sparse 3% (Schulz et al., 1998).

German pharmacopeial grade mullein flower must have a swelling index of not less than 9 and it must contain not more than 5% calices and discolored flowers (brown corollas). Botanical identity must be confirmed by macroscopic and microscopic examinations as well as analysis of flavonoids (DAC, 1986; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994). The Swiss pharmacopeia requires a swelling index of not less than 12 (Ph.Helv.VII, 1987; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).


Mullein flower consists of the dried petals of V. densiflorum Bertoloni and V. phlomoides L. (syn. V. thapsus L.) [Fam. Scrophulariaceae], and their preparations in effective dosage. The preparation contains saponins and mucopolysaccharides.

Chemistry and Pharmacology

Mullein flower contains approximately 3% water-soluble mucilage polysaccharides, which after hydrolysis yields 47% D-galactose, 25% arabinose, 14% D-glucose, 6% D-xylose, 4% L-rhamnose, 2% D-mannose, 1% L-fucose, and 12.5% uronic acids (arabinogalactans) (Kraus and Franz, 1987; Meyer-Buchtela, 1999; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994); approximately 1.54% flavonoids (apignein, luteolin and their 7-O-glucosides, plus kaempferol and rutin); caffeic acid derivatives including caffeic, ferulic, protocatechuic acids, and verbascoside; iridoid monoterpenes (aucubin, 6-b-xylosylaucubin, methylcatalpol, isocatalpol); triterpene saponins (verbascosaponin) (Klimek, 1996a; Klimek, 1996b; Meyer-Buchtela, 1999; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994); sterols; and 11% invert sugar (fructose + glucose) (Meyer-Buchtela, 1999; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).

The Commission E reported expectorant activity and alleviation of irritation.

In vitro, mullein flower infusion has demonstrated antiviral action against herpes simplex type I virus and influenza A and B strains (Slagowska et al., 1987; Zgorniak-Nowosielska et al., 1991).


The Commission E approved mullein flower for catarrhs of the respiratory tract.

Mullein is useful as a component of preparations indicated for symptomatic treatment of sore throat and cough (Der Marderosian, 1999). Other uses of the flower are for chills, dry coughs, and phlegm congestion due to the mild expectorant action of the saponins (Schulz et al., 1998; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).


None known.

Side Effects

None known.

Use During Pregnancy and Lactation

No restrictions known.

Interactions with Other Drugs

None known.

Dosage and Administration

Unless otherwise prescribed: 3-4 g of cut herb for teas and other equivalent galenical preparations for internal use.

[Note: According to the Pharmacopeia of Austria, the usual single dose for mullein flower decoction or infusion is 1.5 g dried herb per cup (Meyer-Buchtela, 1999; $Ouml;AB, 1991).]

Decoction: Place 1.5-2 g of herb in 150-250 ml cold water and bring to a boil for 10 minutes, twice daily (Meyer-Buchtela, 1999; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).

Infusion: Steep 1.5-2 g of herb in 150-250 ml boiled water for 10 to 15 minutes, twice daily (Meyer-Buchtela, 1999; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).

Note: 18% of the potentially available flavonoids are yielded into the tea after 10 minutes of steeping time. However, a 10 minute decoction will result in a more exhaustive extraction of the flavonoids than a 10 minute infusion (Meyer-Buchtela, 1999).

Fluidextract 1:1 (g/ml): 1.5-2 ml, twice daily.

Tincture 1:5 (g/ml): 7.5-10 ml, twice daily (dilute in warm water if desired).


BAnz. See Bundesanzeiger.

British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP). 1996. Exeter, U.K.: British Herbal Medicine Association. 140141.

Bundesanzeiger (BAnz). 1998. Monographien der Kommission E (Zulassungs- und Aufbereitungskommission am BGA f r den humanmed. Bereich, phytotherapeutische Therapierichtung und Stoffgruppe). Kln: Bundesgesundheitsamt (BGA).

Caradonna, W. 1997. Naturopathic Condition Review: Otitis media. Protocol J Botanical Med 2(2):100.

Der Marderosian, A. (ed.). 1999. The Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Facts and Comparisons.

Deutscher Arzneimittel-Codex (DAC). 1986. Stuttgart: Deutscher Apotheker Verlag.

Deutsches Arzneibuch, 6th ed. (DAB 6). 1951. Stuttgart: Deutscher Apotheker Verlag.

Ellingwood, F. 1983. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy. Portland, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications [reprint of 1919 original].

Grieve, M. 1979. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Klimek, B. 1996a. 6'-O-apiosyl-verbascoside in the flowers of mullein (Verbascum species). Acta Pol Pharm 53(2):137140.

. 1996b. Hydroxycinnamoyl ester glycosides and saponins from flowers of Verbascum phlomoides. Phytochemistry 43(6):12811284.

Kraus, K. and G. Franz. 1987. Dtsch Apoth Ztg 127:665669.

Meyer-Buchtela, E. 1999. Tee-RezepturenEin Handbuch f r Apotheker und rzte. Stuttgart: Deutscher Apotheker Verlag.

Nadkarni, K.M. 1976. Indian Materia Medica. Bombay: Popular Prakashan. 12661267.

sterreichisches Arzneibuch ( AB). 1991. Wien: Verlag der sterreichischen Staatsdruckerei.

Pharmacopoeia Helvetica, 7th ed. Vol. 14.(Ph.Helv.VII). 1987. Bern: Office Central Fdral des Imprims et du Matriel.

Schilcher, H. 1997. Phytotherapy in PaediatricsHandbook for Physicians and Pharmacists. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers. 36.

Schulz, V., R. Hnsel, V.E. Tyler. 1998. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physicians' Guide to Herbal Medicine. New York: Springer.

Slagowska, A., I. Zgorniak-Nowosielska, J. Grzybek. 1987. Inhibition of herpes simplex virus replication by Flos verbasci infusion. Pol J Pharmacol Pharm 39(1):5561.

Tyler, V.E. 1993. The Honest Herbal, 3rd ed. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press.

Wichtl, M. and N.G. Bisset (eds.). 1994. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers.

Winston, D. 1997. Protocol J Bot Med 2(2):106.

Zgorniak-Nowosielska, I., J. Grzybek, N. Manolova, J. Serkedjieva, B. Zawilinska. 1991.Antiviral activity of Flos verbasci infusion against influenza and Herpes simplex viruses. Arch Immunol Ther Exp (Warsz) 39(12):103108.

Additional Resources

Bruneton, J. 1995. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. Paris: Lavoisier Publishing.

Felter, H.W. and J.U. Lloyd. 1985. King's American Dispensatory, Vols. 12. Portland, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications [reprint of 1898 original].

sterreichisches Arzneibuch, 1st suppl. ( AB). 19811983. Wien: Verlag der sterreichischen Staatsdruckerei.

This material was adapted from The Complete German Commission E MonographsTherapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. M. Blumenthal, W.R. Busse, A. Goldberg, J. Gruenwald, T. Hall, C.W. Riggins, R.S. Rister (eds.) S. Klein and R.S. Rister (trans.). 1998. Austin: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications.

1) The Overview section is new information.

2) Description, Chemistry and Pharmacology, Uses, Contraindications, Side Effects, Interactions with Other Drugs, and Dosage sections have been drawn from the original work. Additional information has been added in some or all of these sections, as noted with references.

3) The dosage for equivalent preparations (tea infusion, fluidextract, and tincture) have been provided based on the following example:

  • Unless otherwise prescribed: 2 g per day of [powdered, crushed, cut or whole] [plant part]
  • Infusion: 2 g in 150 ml of water
  • Fluidextract 1:1 (g/ml): 2 ml
  • Tincture 1:5 (g/ml): 10 ml

4) The References and Additional Resources sections are new sections. Additional Resources are not cited in the monograph but are included for research purposes.

This monograph, published by the Commission E in 1994, was modified based on new scientific research. It contains more extensive pharmacological and therapeutic information taken directly from the Commission E.

Excerpt from Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs
Copyright 2000 American Botanical Council
Published by Integrative Medicine Communications
Available from the American Botanical Council.