This picture, from Wildman Steve Brill's page, is of a mullein basal rosette. Mullein is a biennial, and this is what the first year plant looks like. The second year is when it throws up its great flower stalk. The leaves are greyish-green, large, soft and velvety, sometimes nearly two feet long. A leaf feels almost like flannel, with little hairs.
The best time to harvest is when the plant is blooming--you can use the roots, leaves and flowers so you will want the whole plant if you can get it. I have also harvested leaves in the spring and fall. Mullien is considered an "alien invader" plant, since it is so prolific. It can and will take over areas. Still, a grateful attitude is best when you're collecting herbs. They may be "invasive" weeds, but I'm still happy they're here and available!
Mullein has many uses in cough and cold season. Here's a quote from Wildman's pages on Mullein:
Mullein tea provides vitamins B-2, B-5, B-12, and D, choline, hesperidin, PABA, sulfur, magnesium, mucilage, saponins, and other active substances.
People use the tea as a beverage, but it’s best known as one of the safest, most effective herbal cough remedies. Mullein is an expectorant, and a tonic for the lungs, mucus membranes, and glands. An infusion is good for colds, emphysema, asthma, hay fever, and whooping cough. Strain the infusion through a cloth, or the hairs may get stuck in your throat and make you cough even more. Laboratory tests have shown that it’s anti-inflammatory, with antibiotic activity, and that it inhibits the tuberculosis bacillus. The Indians smoked dried mullein and coltsfoot cigarettes for asthma and bronchitis, and indications are that it’s effective: I’ve observed it working for bronchitis.
The tea is also an astringent and demulcent. It’s good for diarrhea, and it’s been used in compresses for hemorrhoids since it was recommended by Dioscorides centuries ago. It’s also supposed to help other herbs get absorbed through the skin. Pliny of ancient Rome, Gerard in sixteenth century England, the Delaware Indians, and country folk in the South used the heated leaves in poultices for arthritis.
A tincture of the flowers is used for migraine headaches. An oil extract of the flowers, which contains a bactericide, is used for ear infections, although you should consult with a competent practitioner first, to avoid the possibility of permanent hearing loss if the herb doesn’t work.
Roman ladies used them to die their hair blonde. Roman soldiers dipped the flowerstalks in tallow to make torches.
People also just drink the tea because they like it. Mullein is common--it grows all over the place here, but it likes disturbed soil, roadsides, and fields. It likes dry and sandy soils. I see it most often by road sides--but be careful harvesting those. Don't want car exhaust on your mullein leaves.
We're coming in to cough/cold/flu season here. I expect the mullein I was lucky enough to find will come in handy.