What Is Mullein Leaf? Health Benefits, Risks, More

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Mullein leaf comes with a number of purported benefits, but as with many other supplements, more research is needed to confirm these perks. Here are a few of the most studied benefits of mullein leaf.

Can Ease Respiratory Issues

For those looking for a natural way to help ease a nagging cough, mullein leaf may be an answer. “As a moisture-inducing and expectorant herb, mullein leaf has been used for centuries in traditional folk medicine to reduce inflammation and soothe dry and inflamed lungs and throat tissue, especially in cases of asthma, coughs, and pneumonia,” says Volpe. According to the Cleveland Clinic, mullein also thins phlegm so that it’s easy to cough up, and might help with a sore throat, tonsillitis, and allergies. The saponins — naturally occurring compounds — in mullein leaves are said among clinical herbalists to be responsible for loosening mucus, says Volpe, and past research also notes this.

May Treat an Ear Infection

Ear infections can be a real pain, but, according to New York University (NYU) Langone Health, mullein, when combined with other herbs in an ear drop, may help provide some relief, based on past research. The study they point to looked at 103 children with middle ear infections, and one group took a herbal remedy (made with mullein) while another used a typical ear drop on the market. The results? Both therapies equally eased the ear pain, however, according to NYU, more research needs to be conducted to determine whether mullein is truly effective compared with a placebo.

Might Reduce Inflammation

Mullein leaf has been linked to providing anti-inflammatory benefits. “It may keep inflammation at bay, which may fend off chronic disease states,” says Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, a Chicago-based registered dietitian-nutritionist and author of Total Body Diet for Dummies. According to the Cleveland Clinic, mullein’s leaves and flowers are made up of a substance called mucilage; this film helps cover the mucus membranes in the respiratory tract, in turn potentially easing inflammation.

Inflammation is your body’s natural response when you get hurt; in many cases inflammation can be helpful (redness and swelling, for example, can help protect a banged-up knee), but chronic inflammation in your body can cause unwanted problems, like increasing a person’s odds for heart attack and stroke, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

One review of research, published in July 2021 in the journal Biology, looked at why mullein has been used for centuries in Spanish folk medicine. One reason, the authors explain, is because of its anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to the compounds mullein contains like quercetin (a plant-derived pigment).

Helps Provide Antioxidant Perks

Antioxidants can be found naturally in food or in man-made substances, and might prevent or slow down the process of cell damage in the body, according to MedlinePlus. Mullein leaf contains antioxidants, which could be one of the reasons why it’s used as a traditional remedy. “Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is its antioxidant perks; it can protect the cells from damage,” says Retelny.

One study, published in 2020 in the journal Medicinal Chemistry, found that high concentrations of mullein helped successfully combat free radicals (what antioxidants fight against), although lower doses did not have the same effectiveness. Still, this study was performed in a lab setting, and further studies are needed to determine its impact in the body.

Could Keep Infections at Bay

Certain studies in laboratory settings tout mullein’s antibacterial properties. For example, past research has linked it to stopping the growth of pneumonia, staph and E. coli bacteria (although this was a lab-based study, and more research needs to be done in humans). Also, that same study in the journal Medicinal Chemistry also found it had bacteria-fighting properties. Some research even proposed it could potentially help those with the bacterial infection tuberculosis (although more research, of course, needs to be done).

According to NYU, others have linked mullein to its ability to kill viruses, and one study noted that it may help fight the herpes simplex 1 virus, while other, test tube research noted that it may be beneficial against influenza. Still, it hasn’t been researched enough to label it effective at fighting viruses in humans.

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