27 Survival Uses for Common Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

by Todd Walker

Part of our Self-Reliant Summer series

Ever been caught in the woods with nature calling you to a squatty position? If you forgot the Charmin, you’d still be a happy camper with Cowboy Toilet Paper (AKA – Common Mullein). It’s velvety soft leaves have wrangled many a woodsman and camper from certain disaster over a cat hole.

27 Survival Uses for Common Man Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

The fuzzy leaf of this botanical wonder may cause skin irritation (contact dermatitis). That’s not a bad thing if you happen to be a Quaker in the new world. Since Quaker women weren’t allowed to wear make up, these resourceful ladies rubbed the hairy leaves on their cheeks for a homemade blush to attract suitors. Hence the name Quaker’s Rouge.

If employed as Cowboy TP or camper’s wash cloth, wipe with the flow of the hairs not against. Use caution with sensitive behinds. If a rash occurs, plantain is usually close by.

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is easy to identify making it a safe gateway herb to wildcrafting and medicinal plants. The leafs, stalk, and root are safe for medicinal purposes.

First year plants grow as a rosette with large, wooly, hairy, velvety leaves. The silver-green foliage gives the plant an artificial waxed appearance. They grow in well-drained disturbed soil by roadways, abandoned fields, waste places, and even gravel, rocky soil in full sun.

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

First year growth

Second year growth can reach heights over ten feet.

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

Forgot my tripod. This is my first EVER selfie! I’m 5’10” tall for comparison.

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

Mullein flowers showing off their five yellow flowers

You may know this European weed transplant by other common names such as flannel flower, Quaker’s rouge, bunny’s ear, candle wick, great mullein, torchwort, miner’s candle, poor man’s blanket, hag’s taper, ice leaf, or Cowboy Toilet Paper. Whatever name you use, mullein has been a valuable mulituse tool for self-reliance for thousands of years.

Here’s why…

Properties of Mullein

Understanding the properties of herbs allows you to get the most out of  your herbal medicine chest. Here’s the plant’s medicinal profile:

  • Analgesic – pain relief
  • Anticatarrhal – reduces inflammation of the mucous membranes (lungs, sinus, etc.)
  • Antispasmodic – suppresses involuntary muscle spasms
  • Antitussive – relieve or prevent coughs
  • Astringent – contraction of body tissue, typically on skin
  • Demulcent – forms a soothing film over mucous membranes
  • Diuretic – increases urine production
  • Expectorant – aid in the clearance of mucus from the airways, lungs, bronchi, and trachea
  • Mucilant – coat and protect mucous membranes
  • Vulnerary – promotes healing of wounds, cuts, and abrasions

For more information on medicinal properties of herbs, check out Bk2natuR’s Herbal Dictionary and other natural goodness!

An additional awesome herbal/wildcrafting resource can be found at Common Sense Homesteading. Laurie, a blogging friend of mine, has a great series called Weekly Weeder with 48 posts on using your weeds for culinary and medicinal purposes. I highly recommend her stuff!

As you can see, Common Mullein has many more uses than emergency roadside TP. Take a look…


  • Mullein tea (expectorant) helps facilitate lung function and removes congestion and mucus from the respiratory tract. Dried leaves may also be used as a smoke inhalation.

A dehydrator speeds up the drying process. Set your dehydrator on its lowest heat and process until dry. I set this batch on 95º for about 18 hours for crispy leaves.

[Side note: Even though out Excalibur uses little electricity, I want to build a solar dehydrator. If you have successfully built your own, please contact me. Thanks!]

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

One of five trays of 1st year mullein leaves

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

‘Toby’ the pig helping me make some mullein tea with a backyard bushcraft setup

  • Oil infusion of the yellow flowers for ear aches

How to make Mullein-Flower Oil Infusion

A.) Locate a group of blooming mullein plants (June-September) and harvest the yellow flowers. You’ll need enough to fill a small jam or jelly jar half to three-quarters full. I ended up with about half a jar of flowers. This is tedious and time-consuming. Allow the blooms to dry for an hour or so to remove some of the water content.

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

Flowers harvested from 6 or 7 mullein stalks

B.) Fill the jar with olive oil or any oil you like and screw the lid tightly. Steep the infusion in a warm, sunny spot for about 2 to 4 weeks. Shake the infusion once a day – if you remember.

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

Sunny spot for steeping

C.) Pour the infused oil through a strainer (cheese cloth or bandana) into another container for storage. Label, date, and store in a cool dark cabinet. For ear aches or wax build up, place a few (2-3) drops into the ear a couple of times daily until the problem clears up.


  • Improves soil as a nitrogen fixer and heals the worst soil conditions
  • Feeds bees and other pollinators
  • Compost material
  • Some birds enjoy the seeds
  • Rotenone, found in mullein, is synthesized for insecticide
  • Goats won’t eat it so mullein is a good way to add some green to goat-ravaged land

Bushcraft and Self-Reliance

  • Mullein leaves can be used inside shoes as a cushion and warmth
  • Blanket mullein is one alias outdoor enthusiasts should keep in mind for emergency blanket
  • Saponins in the seeds are said to be useful for stunning fish for easy collection – use only in a true survival scenario
  • Dried leaves and seed pods make an excellent tinder for fire starting
  • Dip a dried seed head stalk in tallow, bees-wax, or pine sap for a long-burning torch (torchwort, miner’s torch)
  • The stalk can be used to create a friction fire – bow or hand drill style

Creek Stewart at Willow Haven Outdoor has a great video demonstrating the friction fire technique using mullein below:

Common Mullein is the common man/woman multi-tool of herbal self-reliance. Ah, a new alias… Common Man Mullein!

DISCLAIMER: This information is offered for educational purposes only. Do your own due diligence before foraging wild edibles and medicinal plants of any kind.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Categories: Bushcraft, Doing the Stuff, Herbal Remedies, Medical, Natural Health, Self-reliance, Survival, Wildcrafting | Tags: , , , , | 57 Comments

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57 thoughts on “27 Survival Uses for Common Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

  1. Mullein is a common plant around Kamloops. Last year I collected the leaves for drying. I found the Mullein Tea very effective for coughs and colds. Mullein is ready to harvest right now. This weekend I will get a year’s supply of dried Mullein!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s ready in GA too. Do you hang dry yours?


    • Caroline, Thank you! I read this and was wondering if anyone has tried it for any of the above listed uses, besides fire of course. I know several people who use it in tea mixes but none have discussed the curative properties. Thank you Sherpa as well for the article, I am on a path to involve myself with the world around me more and articles like this help! I amoff to look at more of your page.


  2. sweetpea

    The problem with so-called natural “cures” is they never “cure” anything. Does anyone in their right mind actually think this will relieve pain or do any of the other wild claims? But probably more importantly have you ever needed to “coat and protect mucous membranes”? I am 71 years old and have never “coated and protected my mucous membranes”. Seriously if you have a pain or upset tummy would you truely choose one of these quack “cures”? Probably the best course of action would be to ignore it and it will go away since it is minor and truely of no consequence but to apply a palitive of unknow strength or side effects with no more proof then that ignorant savages used to do it along with burning witches at the stake is more ignorance. Two points: 1. These “natural cures” are pure superstition and quackery. 2. They don’t “cure” anything even if they worked as advertised. They purport to “cure” things that are meaningless and offer no “cure” for anything serious. Why would anyone take this seriously. Cowboy toilet paper is it’s highest and best use.


    • Chewylouie

      Have you ever tried these types of things? I have found several different things that I believe do work (for bugs and poison ivy mostly). I would guess that you have not actually tried these thing. Some things probably aren’t true, but you wouldn’t know unless you tried them. Besides, where do you think the chemicals in commercial medicines come from. They have to come from something natural.


    • That’s why doctors ‘practice’ medicine. A lot of conventional medicine is quackery practiced not for the good of the patient but to pad the pockets of big pharma. The side effects of medicine advertisements alone are enough for me to seek alternative self-healing methods.

      Medicinal plants, like the food we choose to eat, have chemical properties that either heal or hurt. Of course, sounds like you have your mind made up and I’m not one to try and sway you otherwise. Like Chewy mentioned, have you personally tried any herbs to heal issues? I’d love to hear your personal experience with medicinal plants.

      Thanks for weighing in on the subject, Sweetpea. Look forward to hearing more about the stuff you’re actually doing.


    • Cowboy

      You are partly right. Most herbal treatments are not cures, but are helpful in reducing symptoms if used correctly. For example. Dried basil leaves made into a strong tea will relieve nausea, and sooth headaches. It will not cure migraines or stomach cancer. But, it is helpful, with no side effects to worry about. Elderberry syrup does reduce the length and severity of colds and flu, but it is not a cure, but neither is the over the counter stuff, which has been proven to extend the duration of illness.


    • beautifuldrms

      Hi Sweetpea,
      I have used many natural remedies that have worked incredibly well. One, Arnica gel, was recommended by a sports injury doctor. An MD. I found that it worked better than any other topical pain reliever I’d ever used.
      Awhile back I made a medicinal lotion out of flowers, herbs and wild plants that has been the only thing that reduced my father’s very serious skin problem that doctor prescribed pharmaceuticals never touched.
      You should be aware too that doctors in Europe are trained in and use natural remedies alongside traditional medications. So, short story, long; you might save your negative opinions until you’ve tried a few of these natural plant remedies. I think you would be very pleasantly surprised. Please do speak with your PCP prior to using any new medication, natural or chemical.
      Here’s to hoping you open your mind a bit, try a natural remedy and love it!
      Take good care! JM

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for reminding me about arnica! I have arnica pills that I used when I was trying to reduce the amount of ibuprofen I was using. I have back, hip and knee injuries.
        My husband now has an achilles tendon problem that the insurance company refused to pay for the anti-inflammatory cream for. I will get him some arnica gel.
        I have also used soy estrogen for hot flashes (recommended by a physician’s assistant) instead of Premarin, made from tortured mare’s urine.
        And yes, the Elderberry Cough syrup was a Godsend! We used to use a cough syrup with codeine (very bad) when we
        had uncontrollable coughs due to infections.
        Lots more, I’m sure…..


      • Monica

        Would you be kind as to share that recipe with us? I have a candida or Psoriasis type rash that the dr can’t cure so I’d love to know what works. Thanks so much.


    • wendy

      Well before “modern” pharmacy companies had to own drugs names, all medicines were herbal mixes. This was less than 100 years ago. Look at antique pharmacopeia books. Don’t be so easily duped! More people die from drug side effects every year than fire arm deaths! These drug companies want to destroy herbal medicines, if they don’t work why, do they try so hard to stop us from making and taking these remedies. They want a monopoly, that’s why. I am in the medical field, by the way. I have seen the legal drugs and what damage they can do to people.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Your lack of knowledge is astounding. At 71 you would think you would research before you shoot off your pie hole.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dandelion

      Sweetpea may not see this, but hopefully someone will read it and it’ll make a difference and eliminate doubt.

      Nature’s cures come from the greatest healer of all: God. I believe whole-heartedly that God put everything on this planet we need to sustain life.

      One more thing. A great deal of conventional medicine contains these natural resources. Do your homework sweetpea.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe not actually a “cure”, but do allergy pills cure allergies? Or relieve symptoms? I have used Te4a Tree Oil to stop a sunburn (blisters) from getting worse after my son told me he used it when he inadvertently stuck his hand in a pan of lasagne he just pulled from the oven. I think it cured the sunburn, the pain went away and I didn’t have scars. I have used other remedies too, such as aloe vera and colloidal silver to stop an infection and ecchinacea to boost the immune system. I have used St. John’s Wort to calm me down when extremely upset, and whatever is in “Sleepy-Time Tea” works like a charm. Many of our modern medications are based on herbal medications. Maybe you should pick up a book on the subject and try a few, or is reading also something you frown on?


    • Bonnie Miera

      I’m glad you don’t have asthma or respiratory problems or sore throats wow I have used mullien for all of these health problems I wish I didn’t have to but thankful God put plants here for us to use to heal ourselves before doctors The drugs you get at the drugstore all started out as plants growing somewhere and used by someone now they can make synthetic drugs but even those are fashioned after real plants. why are you so skeptical when you haven’t used them yourself?


    • Corey

      Hello Sweetpea,

      I agree with you that many things don’t work, but I can assure you things do work naturally. If you don’t try you never know. Just because it doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. Most herb products you buy in the stores give you 10 percent herbs and remainder fillers. Most calcium made out of oyster shells. It is like a rock grinding down in a power! It doesn’t absorb in the body. Natural vitamin E goes to the brain and synthetic doesn’t. I can go on. I can tell you I had acid reflux for 10 years and completely gone for 10 years now. I was taking multiple herbs and ate salad and make vegable juices for 7 months. I nothing else. I did a superfood cleanse! No meat, pasta, bread, etc did I eat. The cleanse was for twenty days and I continued the last course after the twenty days. After this cleanse I could eat anything and no more acid up the throat. No more falling on the ground holding my stomach in pain. I could jalapeños and no more issues. I could never breathe through my nose and afterwards no problem anymore. Still good! A few other things to note. A co-q10 study showed not working for people with tumors. So one guy in the study increased the quantity he was taking and his tumor started shrinking. So the doctors increased another ladies dosage and her tumor started shrinking. I was reading on another product study when they, the doctors claimed the herb doesn’t start to work until taken for 6 months continually. I believe many factors come into play. In my opinion getting your plant in rich soil away from the city and highway is the best way.


    • jj

      I use “these types of things” all the time with the expected good results.


    • Sweetpea (not an appropriate name) I have used the mullein plant to coat and protect mucus membrane andy yes, people do need that to happen, just because you haven’t does not mean it is not a real issue. I had a bronchial issue that persisted for several months. Many doctor visits later. it was only getting worse and no amount of medication was curing me. During a month long break from work, I stayed with a relative (Native American) that introduced me to “the ways of our people”. One week into using mullein my bronchial issue was over and I was breathing normal again. I now keep dried mullein leaves, root and flowers at all times and it is my go to. I am writing this reply in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic. The biggest issue with CV19 is bronchial- mucus filled lungs- I don’t know that mullein is the answer, but it sure as hell won’t hurt!


    • Very old post. Natural cures can cure things. Case in point – my dog had a horrendous ear infection. I have a well respected experienced vet. He told me the dog had a strain of Pseudomonas bacteria that had no known effective “cure” and to prepare for it to die. I found some research that natural wild oregano oil could kill that bacteria. I diluted some with olive oil, applied it, and it “cured” the infection 100%. Three weeks later the vet said this can’t be the same dog, his ears are “pink, perfect, and beautiful”. Yes, natural cures can cure things. Stick that in your bagpipe and play Amazing Grace.


    • mia

      the pharma companies need you as a spokes person, people believe in herbal medicines they dont need someone to dash their beliefs if you have not actually researched don’t comment


  3. Chewylouie

    Speaking of wild edibles, this year, for my birthday, my family got me a couple of wild edibles books. Since then I have been soaking up all the information I can on them. I haven’t actually eaten much because I haven’t cooked anything and lots of them are bitter now, but I have eaten huckleberry, blueberry, blackberry, dewberry which I normally eat, and greenbrier (which was new). Anyway, I have learned a lot of medicinals too (like jewelweed, wax myrtle, Beauty berry). But I was doing a little overdo bush hogging on our property and noticing all the good plants around me, it felt like I was running over a pharmacy. I have had so much fun learning about the edible plants and even more fun with the medicinals.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. walt

    My Perterson’s Field Guide says mullein also has antiviral activity, that’s the reason I dry and store some every few years. I used it (dried leaves and flowers,in tea) once when I had a cold, can’t say it helped much, but didn’t make it worse. Maybe it just didn’t have activity against the type of virus I had.

    Anyway, just for you sweetpea:

    “The extensive historical use of mullein has inspired scientists to investigate the plant further. To date, a number of the ancient claims have actually proved to be true.

    Modern day European complimentary medicine frequently hails mullein flower oil as a remedy for earache [42]. Trials have shown a statistically significant improvement in ear pain associated with acute Otitis Media when treated with the infusion [43]. The proven anti-inflammatory action of the constituent verbascoside [44] is the likely cause for this successful treatment though antimicrobial agents may also play a part. Extracts of the mullein leaf have also been shown in laboratory studies to possess antitumour, antiviral, antifungal [45–48], and—most interestingly for the purpose of this paper—antibacterial properties. Turker and Camper showed aqueous Mullein leaf extracts to be effective against gram positive and gram negative microorganisms, with the activity against Klebsiella pneumoniae rivalling that of the Erythromycin control [49]. To date, activity against Mycobacterium species has not been determined. ”

    From: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2952292/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love finding science behind this stuff. Thanks for sharing, walt!!


    • UAB has used natural remedies in conjunction with modern medicine. When science can prove it or it works for me, I am a believer. I know my herb book lists all the traditional uses and then tell which condition the herb will actually help.


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  6. Many modern medicines are directly derived from herbs. There are many genuine helps from spices and herbs in prevention and symptom relief if used properly, so sweetpea is not correct in some statements. However, there is a lot of quackery and just plain witchcraft being practiced by naturopaths and others (doctors and nurses) who only see profits to made at the expense of those who are looking for help.


  7. sweetpea

    Most medical problems simply require time for the body to heal it. You get a scratch, you keep it clean and 3-5 days later it’s healed. You get a cold or the flu and drink liquids and get rest and 3-7 days later your fine again. Almost every one of the so-called “natural” cures” work just as well as time does. That is you get a cold and with or without natural or science based “cures” you are healthy again in 3-7 days. In other words they do nothing. At best they are palatives and hopefully don’t cause harm (people do die from these natural “cures”).
    The remainder of the medical problems are serious. Cancer, strokes, severed limbs. It is downright foolishness to think that some plant or magic spell is going to cure you. When Steve Jobs first discovered he had pancreatic cancer he did indeed go to natural healers and used natural medicine. The result was he took an operable cancer to the stage where it was fatal. THAT is the biggest problem with the “natural” or superstition based “cures”, i.e. that they kill people who could otherwise be helped.
    This mystic belief in natural cures is the result of ignorance and wishful thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if they worked? But wait! Aren’t there studies that “prove” they work. Usually, NO! Usually there is a biased group that searches all the studies for some anomaly and puts that out as “proof” that some flower can actually cure something. It is witchcraft and superstition for the 21st century. If you get anything serious there is simply no plant, herb, flower or ancient Chinese practice that will do diddly squat for you. If you get some minor thing like a scratch or a sore throat almost nothing you do will cure it any faster BUT if you are prone to believe in superstition you will believe that the magic potion worked.


  8. I am more in the Sweet Pea camp. Some herbs do help, but which ones? I have so many allergies to plants that I am not going to take a chance on smearing something on my skin that will cause a rash or worse, lung problems. My bronchitis was so bad two months ago, that the doctor thought I had pneumonia until he did xrays. I don’t like having hives or breathing problems, so I steer clear of cures. Now, Vicks on my soles does stop a cough. Chicken broth will help clear my sinuses. But, just because someone tells me that an herb is good for a “cure,” I am not falling for it. Time does help some small ailments.

    I am not against others who want to use herbal remedies. Maybe some are more effective than others. I don’t know.

    My friend went to a naturopath, took herbs and concoctions for six months and lost 60 lbs. She thought the weight loss was due to not eating things bad for her health. Finally, she was no more than a skeleton. Well, it was stage 4 colorectal cancer before it was over.

    Some herbs are effective for their stated uses. For instance, pennyroyal will cause an abortion. It might just kill the mother, too.


  9. commonsenseidea

    Wow, Todd, I feel like I stumbled into the era of witch hunts. You get some grumpy folks on your site. Plant medicines have been used for a very long time. No medicine can “cure” anything – it can only help your body to help itself. That said, anything strong enough to be used as medicine should be used carefully. Just about any substance can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals, so again, caution should always be exercised.

    Thanks for the shout out.


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  11. Reblogged this on Living The Simple Life and commented:
    Great information here.


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  14. David

    “If a rash occurs, plaintain is usually close by.”

    Haha! I love it.


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  16. Thanks for the great post. I have always thought Mullein was a cool plant. It even looks cool. I have known several medicinal uses for mullein as taught to me by my mom a lifetime ago. I still use them. I am happy to learn of more uses via your post. Also,my dad, uncles, and older brothers steeped me in many friction fire making techniques using the flower stems as spindles. I have personally learned that the tinder from the velvety bark of the stems is one of the few natural items that will work to make an ember in a fire piston–in lieu of char cloth. For those interested in these and dozens more matchless fire starting techniques, I have a couple of blogs they can visit. https://questforfireblog.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

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    I added it to my pipe tobacco as I knew it was as you called it an anticatarrhal.


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  25. Barbara

    Dear Todd Walker
    Thank you so much for your site which should be at the top not the bottom when a person googles common mullein! I will definitely share it and just want to suggest that, as you gently remind us at the bottom of your article to gove credit to the author…I suggest you sign off with your name, even though you did make this site easy to go back to the top to see the name of the author to be credited

    I have seen and appreciated mullein before, but did not look in to researching til I came upon a solitary stalk and admired its furry leaves again just this week. The first time was a winter after a hard frost when I explored our grounds to dig ip a few green plants to replenish my terrarium, which I have enjoyed for about twenty years thanks to David Paffhausen. This must have been a “first year” plant because it had not sprouted a stalk. I have admired a plant called “lambs ears” for many years but that is not often seen here in Maine except in nurserys. Anyway, that lovely creature survived the winter and flourished for many months inside thevterrarium, thanks be to God

    Now I have a more complete story, including your fire-making demo in which you give me the correct pronounciation( sp?) of the word. After first finding the image in my wildflower book (in the yellow section) and seeing the spelling, I was saying “mull-ANE”, but it did not feel right. Your use of “MULL-in” must be accurate as it sounds very natural. I do not know why it is not a household word, though I grew up in the midwest where such plants do not have a chance to take route in the world of dandelion-free well-manicured green grass lawns. That’s enough for now but I may be back, if I dont forget where I found you. At age 72 I am well aware that my lifelong distractedness is developing into more pronounced memory loss. Wonder what mullein tea would do for that?!


    • Barbara

      By the way I am now regretting I did not go back and edit my previous message before it became “all yours”. I do hope you will feel free to correct my typos such as gove instead of give

      Thanks again Todd!
      Barbara A
      St George Maine (where are you?)


  26. Kathryn

    Have you ever heard of using the leaf of this plant for burns? I have an Amish friend who’s 3 year old son burned his hands on the exhaust pipe of their lawnmower. He had huge blisters and I saw the mom put salve on the burns and then a fuzzy leaf weed and then a bandage. I thought he would get a horrible infection, but he healed nicely and has no scars. I’m pretty sure it was common mullein.


  27. looking for something that will stop this gerd cough that I have had for 24 25 26 years


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