Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). Cultivation and properties

Within the aromatic and medicinal plants of our blog, we are going to give space to a species used in traditional medicine called Mullein. We will see their habitat, cultivation and we will analyze some studies in search of verifying if such properties are unfounded or have their scientific basis. Let us begin.


This plant is found practically all over the world, except for the equatorial, tropical and subtropical zones. Its presence predominates in Europe although it can be found practically throughout the northern hemisphere. They do not have or at least a specific origin is not known and it is considered native to Europe, North America and Asia. In the southern hemisphere we can find it in South Africa and the eastern part of Australia and New Zealand.

The genus Verbascum  is gibberish when it comes to species, hybrids, subspecies, and synonyms. It is a relatively broad genus with 116 accepted species . The funny thing is that there are more than 1000 species that are yet to be determined and for now they are not within the genus but many could be in the future.

Mullein worldwide distribution. Extracted from

The common name of Mullein or Mullein derives from the Latin ” coda lupi ” or wolf’s tail , due to its erect floral stem that can easily reach 2 meters. The other common name is Verbasco and we believe that there is no need to give more explanation of the origin of this name.

Mullein is a normally biennial plant . It forms a rosette of large leaves (20-50 cm), soft and very hairy, acquiring a grayish green or silver.

Its inflorescence emerges from a spike-shaped floral stem in the center of the rosette, which is what gives it its common name. Its small yellow 5-petal flowers have a yellow pigmentation used in ancient times as a dye.

Mullein rosette. Photo by Charles de Mille-Isles


The Gordoloba has and has had a series of very specific uses and some very curious. We have to go back millennia to find a word in disuse, envarbascar that comes from en- and varbasco or verbasco, that is, to apply or use verbasco, but… for what purpose?

According to the RAE, envarbascar means: poisoning the water with verbasco or another analogous substance to stun the fish.

One of the many uses that gives its name to a word in our rich language is to use this plant to stun fish and thus be able to catch them with ease , a practice already used by the Romans.

And hence the other nickname of fish killer . This nickname is held by other plants with similar characteristics, such as the Belesa, which we have already talked about on another occasion.

If you like the etymology, another “fish killer” plant is the Belesa. Do you know what verb derives from this other plant? Find out in this article.

And it is that in Spain, since Alfonso X the Wise there are references to the use of ichthyotoxic plants. The root ichthyus comes from the Greek and means fish.


Apart from the Belesa or the Gordoloba, in Spain dozens of plants with narcotic effects have been used to fish. We can highlight marijuana ( Cannabis sativa ), oleander ( Nerium oleander ), hops  Humuls lupulus ) or the fungus Amanita muscaria,  torvisco ( Daphne gnidium ) or hemlock ( Conium maculatum ).


There are bibliographic references of its use as a medicinal plant throughout history as well as its ichthyotoxic use for fishing. Some references are:

  • The expectorant, mucolytic  and anti – inflammatory properties of the leaves and flowers have been used for respiratory treatments such as bronchitis, dry cough and even to alleviate symptoms of diseases such as whooping cough or tuberculosis, asthma and hoarseness.
  • Certain diuretic and soothing effects are attributed to it in urinary tract ailments.
  • It has a mild sedative effect .


In general, many of the plants of the genus Verbascum and in general of the Scrophulariaceae family  have a wide variety of chemical compounds such as saponins, monoterpenic glycosides, iridoids, flavonoids, steroids, alkaloids and a host of other compounds that confer the above properties. described. We can stand out:

  • Rutin and hesperidin (flavonoids with antioxidant and calming diuretic effects. Hesperidin has been used as an anti-hemorrhoidal treatment and generally of a vascular nature.
  • Various and specific mono and triterpenic saponins such as verbascosapónids (responsible for the expectorant effects).
  • Polysaccharides such as galactose, arabinose and phenolic acids (responsible for anti-inflammatory effects).
  • Iridoid glycosides (these are a derivative of geraniol) and tannins responsible for anti-inflammatory activity.

Antibacterial effects have been demonstrated in several pathogenic species for humans, mainly due to the abundant presence of saponins, although there are contradictions in different studies with the effectiveness in the E. coli species .

Mullein growing in stony and arid terrain. Photo by Jim Morefield



It is quite rustic, being able to withstand winter temperatures of -15ºC without losing its hair. It can tolerate both semi-shade and full sun areas. It tolerates drought very well.


It grows perfectly in poor, stony, limestone, sandy-textured and even coastal soils. The only soils that it does not tolerate or does with difficulty are acidic and heavy ones. Drainage must be very high. In gardens with gravel areas they are very attractive. In very fertile soils they grow even too much.


Being drought tolerant, we do not have to be very aware of irrigation and if we ensure good drainage we do not have to worry about a specific frequency.


It is a very invasive plant. It has a great power of propagation. In this case, rather than spreading it, we must prevent it from spreading . Verbasco is a plant that attracts many pollinators and generates a huge amount of seeds. In fact, it is recommended to cut the flower stem before it produces seeds to control its expansion throughout the garden.

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