The Wild Mullein and I


I never thought of lamb’s ear as a cultivated plant as I see it growing wild around here all over the place, but it’s popular in beds and borders for its silvery-green textured leaves that are shaped like, you guessed it, a lamb’s ear. I didn’t know it flowered, and I’m not sure why that is considering, as I said, it’s all over the place. I can’t blame the animals as it’s one of those plants they don’t like to eat. You’ll see a grazed-down field with lamb’s ear popping up all over. It’s actually considered to be an invasive plant, but I’ve got a couple of them in my herb garden.

I was surprised to see how pretty the blooms are. This one (which comes with a bug!) is just beginning to flower.

My curiosity was aroused about lamb’s ear when someone commented recently saying they ate it in salads. I had always assumed there was something not-so-good about it since the animals will ignore it in a field, so I had to investigate. I mean, assuming it’s edible, the leaves look kinda fuzzy…..

Which makes my tongue curl up and my mouth want to seal shut.

What I found was that some people do eat the leaves, but it’s not common. Because for most people, the idea makes their tongues curl up and their mouths seal shut. And while the plant isn’t harmful to animals (as far as I can find), animals have the same reaction. However, it is edible.

Like, for starving people.

It has also long been used as a medicinal plant for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial properties. The fuzzy leaves are absorbent and can be turned into makeshift bandages.


In the course of my research, I realized there are two very similar plants. Lamb’s ear–and wild mullein. I caught onto this fact when the lamb’s ear articles all kept referencing the pink or purple flowers. My flowers are decidedly yellow. Here are the basic differences between the two plants:

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grows as a “foliage rosette” with a central stalk that produces yellow blossoms. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) grows as a “foliage clump” and produces pinkish-purple flowers. While the leaves are quite similar, mullein grows much taller and lamb’s ear leaves are softer. The most obvious, easiest identification is in the color of the blooms.

What I have here is wild mullein. So, is mullein edible? Yes, yes, it is! Its list of medicinal properties are similar to lamb’s ear, as is its edible status–and accompanying lack of edible interest on the part of many humans and animals. Also like lamb’s ear, it can be invasive. And further, it doesn’t bloom in the first year, which may be why I’ve seen it so often not blooming in our fields. From year to year due to trampling or turning over ground etc, we probably don’t get a lot of second-year mullein around here in the fields where it’s most readily visible. I got these mature blooming mulleins because they are protected inside my garden.

I’ve never heard anyone around here call this anything but lamb’s ear, so I feel super genius-like for making this earth-splitting botanical discovery. I conquered this wild mullein, uncovering its secrets all on my own. I always like to get one over on the “old” farmers.

Me: “Did you say lamb’s ear? Actually, that’s wild mullein. See the yellow flowers? The foliage rosette? It’s Verbascum thapsus, you see. Not Stachys byzantina.”

Then the old farmers run me over with their old tractors and put some yellow “lamb’s ear” flowers on my grave.

The End.


  1. Blessings says:

    thanks for the information…who,

  2. Granny Trace says: out for the Old first I thought I was crazy because my lambs ear never bloomed.
    Granny Trace

  3. bonita says:

    You’ve discovered why botanists speak so much Latin, all the better to communicate, my dear!

  4. collector1 says:

    I grew up in WI and knew the plant as wild mullein all my my life. My father also called it “Indian tobacco” though I have no idea why. Now I’m curious to see what lambs ear looks like – will have to look that up

    Thanks for the info – have a great day

  5. CATRAY44 says:

    Great info and a good morning laugh! Thanks!

  6. stakppleto says:

    We call this toilet paper plant. We read somewhere that it makes good toilet paper in a pinch. Can’t say that I’ve personally tried it. LOL

  7. CindyP says:

    I’d never hear Mullein before until this morning, then I found it again investigating other herbs. Use external flower oil for ear infections & inflammations. Use internal (dried leaves) for coughs (make a steam), inflammations, bronchitis.

    Will have to let mine bloom to see what it really is! I usually just dig it out and throw it over the bank…I always thought it was just a weed.

  8. luvthecountry says:

    It is really good steeped into a tea for coughs and bronchial issues as well. I keep a bunch of dried mullein on hand for such a purpose. I had some natural ear drops one time that had mullein in them. I can’t say that I know how well they worked because I only used them once. They also had garlic oil and some other things I can’t remember now. All I could smell for the rest of the day were those ear drops. Reminded me of fried wonton noodles.

  9. judyh says:

    I grew up many, many years ago on a farm in Roane County (WV) and everyone I knew (old farmers included) called it mullein and it was considered to be a weed. I never knew or even thought about how to spell it–just always figured “mullen” was probably some slang name given to it by the old-timers and wouldn’t be in the dictionary anyway. It wasn’t until I left home, moved to the city and had a lawn and gardens of my own that I heard of something called lambs ear. My first thought when seeing it was, “oh, that looks a lot like mullein, but city folks must think lambs ear sounds more sophisticated”. Since CindyP never heard of mullein until this morning, I’m wondering if it might be a regional thing, i.e., whether it’s called mullein or lambs ear instead of a country/city thing. Wonder what Mammy Jane called it!

  10. oneoldgoat says:

    Actually the plant to which I was referring-that we have always called lamb’s ear (because it looks like little lambs ears) is Portulaca oleracea. A quick search of google and I see that it is also called purslane and pigweed. It is very tasty and imagine my very happy surprise to see it growing among my lettuce!! The Verbascum Thapsus is what we always called the toilet paper plant! My family always had wierd names for things that varied from my father’s side of the family who were old, old farmers to my mother’s side of the family who have always lived in Pittsburgh.


  11. cindi says:

    Mullein is amazing!! I love using both mullein tincture and mullein infusion for respiratory symptoms of a cold or allergies. The tincture is also great for ear infections and congestion. In conjunction with elderberry, I used mullein recently when I was fighting off the flu. Definitely helped.

    We’ve got mullein growing near here, but unfortunately can’t use it for anything as it’s been subjected to the local farmers’ intensive Roundup and other chemical spray. 😥 I’ve got a patch of lambs ear growing in our yard too, given to me by my husband’s mother last year. 🙂 It’s pretty, but it didn’t flower last year so I haven’t seen those yet…

  12. cindi says:

    On a related note, it’s funny how all the plants that have been deemed ‘weeds’, invasive or otherwise, have so much use and value to those who care, and know how, to use them. They’ve been labelled a nuisance only by those who either can’t make a buck off of them, or are just plain ignorant of their worth.

  13. holstein woman says:

    It is amazing how many of the plants God created for us to use for everything we can imagine that we just don’t know about.
    Thank you Suzanne, this is great work you do for everyone here. :snuggle:

  14. cabynfevr says:

    I wondered why you called mullein lambs ear! Lambs ear is a plant we grow in gardens here. Mullein mostly grows wild on the sides of the road although you can buy it in some garden centers. Sometimes the difference between W. Virgnia and CT makes us seem to live in different countries and it fascinates me! I love it and it is a constant education. (although, some people might say people in CT ARE from another world, let alone country. hahahaha)

  15. Anita says:

    If it’s got antiseptic properties, I can certainly see the benefit of using it as toilet paper in the woods. I’ll have to check my creek bank and see if we’ve got any.

  16. Miss Judy says:

    In SE Ohio we always called the fuzzy stuff lambs ear.Never heard of mullein. I also heard of lamb’s quarter but didn’t know what it was. I thought they were the same thing and couldn’t imagine eating those fuzzy things. Later on I found out that lamb’s quarter is totally different, never ate that either. Both of my great-grandmothers used medicinal herbs…wish they would have left some notes! Or passed the knowledge on. Thanks for passing on the info.

  17. Pat says:

    Very interesting post, Professor. Caused a good laugh, too. Have a great day in WV!
    pat in eastern nc

  18. denny144 says:

    I live in a Detroit suburb–no farmland for miles. Yet, thanks to birds, mullein is a pest in my garden every year.

  19. Ms.Becky says:

    I love the soft leaves of this plant. Native Americans dried the leaves and smoked them as a substitute for tobacco, and mullein oil, made from the flowers tinctured in olive oil is a wonderful and effective remedy for an earache. thanks for all the extra info about this wild, wonderful plant. :yes:

  20. TinaBell says:

    I was a bit confused from the get-go when you were talking about lamb’s ear but the picture showed yellow blooms. I wondered if it was a variety that grows in your area and not mine, as all the lamb’s ear I’ve ever seen around here has light purple blooms. Alas! I read on and confusion was replaced with wonder as I realized that I have seen mullein about a thousand times growing wild. I’ll be darned!!
    Get ahold of some lamb’s ear for your garden, it’s so nice to pet the leaves! Not as nice as a real lamb’s ear, I’ll bet, but still very nice and soothing when you’re out communing in your garden. :ladybug:

  21. MalagaCove says:

    I’ve heard it called both things, never knew it was usuable AND could be pretty!

    Suzanne, what’s the purple stuff that’s behind/around the lamb’s ear in your photo?


  22. mrsdmahogany says:

    That has got to be the FUNNIEST thing I have ever read….thanks for the afternoon laugh! Very informative post…only thought there was only ever one type of Lamb’s ear, the one with the purple flowers….we must not get t’other in our zone. :purpleflower:


  23. twiggityNDgoats says:

    I have plenty of Lamb’s Ear if you’d like some. I’ll bring it sometime if you want it and don’t already have it by then.

  24. Vicki in So. CA says:

    Judith – I think the purple stuff is just the soil around the garden. Maybe a color-balance thing on your monitor. Mine shows that way a little bit too. The fencing shows a tad blue for me as well.
    Suzanne – Nice work, Sherlock! Either way, it’s beautiful, and the bug is pretty cute, too!

  25. Drucillajoy says:

    OK….we’ve always called it Lambs Ear, but called the flower part Aaron’s Rod…now I’m wondering if Aaron’s Rod is some other type of similar plant…I have let them grow in the garden & they can get about 6 ft. tall or maybe more….hmmmmm

  26. Linda Goble says:

    I hav e lambs ear in my garden. it drys real nice for arrangements. I also have Mullen that grow wild here. some times I will leave it in and sometimes I pull it out. It can get pretty tall. I don’t think I care to eat either.

  27. mamajhk says:

    The mention of using it as toliet paper made certain body parts “curl up and seal shut” :no:

  28. mamajhk says:

    Thanks for the chuckle. It is insteresting to see that each region of the country as its own name for the same thing.

  29. Urbanite says:

    I’ve come across references to mullein tea before as helpful for coughs and congestion. I didn’t know what mullein was, though, so this was very informative. BTW. the background soil is rather purple and the fence and wire are blue in my monitor, too. Maybe I should spend some time adjusting my color settings, but it actually makes an interesting contrast to the color of the flowers and leaves!

  30. Sundownr says:

    I, too, was curious as to why you were displaying a photo of mullein and calling it lamb’s ear, lol! I successfully used mullein to quit smoking a couple years ago. It was used as the base for a substitute tobacco along with other wild medicinal herbs (weeds) to expel the tar and nicotine from previously smoked cigarettes. I also drank a tea made from it for a few months to further clear my lungs. It is now one of my favorite plants and a very beneficial herb to have on hand!

  31. JJ says:

    I read this post today, then went and picked up “Mammy Jane” which I am now reading. First page I read today: She doused her with the cough syrup she had ready. Mullein leaves steeped slowly and drained, to which a half cup of honey, two peppermint sticks, and two tablespoons of whiskey were added. She also had a rub made from lamb tallow, fresh mint from along the run and seeped mullein leaves (Page 105). Never ever heard of mullein and then see it twice within 30 minutes. Love when that happens!!!!

  32. Jerry says:

    Hey – Thanks for the information – I thought I had Lambs Ear, but it turned out to be a lovely Wild Mullien plant. It is blooming now and I posted a link to this page on my facebook page where I have a shot of my Mullein.
    Thanks, have a look if you get a chance – It’s over 4′ tall.

  33. DNeves says:

    Where can I get Wild Mullein seeds? We live in West Texas where it is very dry and hot. I have Lamb’s ear, but I’d like to grow Mullein, too.

    My Lamb’s ear is in it’s second year, so I have those beautiful lavender colored flowers. I’m going to try to save some seeds from my Lamb’s ear.

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