It's almost fall, and you know what that means. One of these mornings, you'll wake up with that oh-so-familiar, terrible, telltale pain of an ear infection. This happened to me recently. I mean, I haven’t had one in years, but the memory of how painful one of these things can be was easily recalled. I immediately dosed myself with a hearty helping of Echinacea and Goldenseal, and while those two well-known herbs are great for fighting infection and boosting the immune system, they don’t do much for the pain of an earache.
Mullein (Verbascum densiflorum) is a fuzzy-leafed, yellow-flowered plant used primarily for fighting coughs and relieving congestion (very good for whooping cough, bronchitis, etc). It is, however, also a potent painkiller, antiviral and anti-inflammatory. Most often, the flowers are used to soothe external pain and swelling (earaches, eczema, rashes, etc.) and the leaves are used for respiratory complaints. I find, however, that the leaves are suitable for pain relief as well.
Normally, I keep a stash of mullein oil in the fridge, but this morning I discovered the bottle was nearly empty. To make a strong, medicinal mullein oil, you need a good two weeks to one month (more on that later). However, every herbalist has down and dirty tricks for quick herbal fixes.
To make a quick batch of pain-relieving mullein oil, get a cup of good-quality, organic olive oil and heat it lightly (just warm it up — don’t cook it) in a small saucepan. Add a handful of dried mullein leaves, crushing them with your hands as you add them. Stir with a wooden spoon, cover, and let sit for at least half an hour.
That’s your bare bones oil and it will keep in the fridge for a few days. For extra virus and bacteria-fighting power, throw in a couple of crushed cloves of garlic and a handful of St. John’s Wort (in a pinch, you can open up five or six capsules of powdered herb if you have it lying around, keeping in mind that fresh or dried whole herbs are always preferable). Adding a quarter teaspoon of vitamin E oil will help keep this mixture fresh for a few months.
While you’ve got your ingredients out, I suggest making a nice strong mullein oil the traditional way. Grab a clean mason jar. Throw in a handful of mullein, St. John’s Wort, Calendula flowers (if you happen to have any, you know, just lying around), and two crushed cloves of garlic. Fill with olive oil, leaving ½ inch of space at the top, and add vitamin E oil as a preservative. Seal and place in a sunny window. Shake daily and let steep for at least two weeks (a month is best). Check the oil every day. If the mullein seems to be soaking up a lot of oil, top off your jar to the ½ inch mark. You want to make sure your herbs are always submerged.
After a month, strain the oil, and store it in amber bottles in a dark, cool place. This oil should keep a good six months to a year. Always smell the oil to check for rancidness before using (this depends on the quality of oil you start with, by the way).
To use: Filter your oil into a small, sterilized dropper bottle (boil the bottle in water for ten minutes, soak the dropper end in hot water for the same amount of time) and add 3-5 drops into the painful ear. Gently close the ear with a cotton ball, and rest for 5-15 minutes. After that, turn the head and let the oil drain out. Sometimes nothing will come out; that’s OK. Address the other ear, if needed.
Keep this up for as long as pain persists. NOTE: if you have a ruptured eardrum, do not use ear oil. See a physician. Also see a physician if you have a fever, other symptoms, or if the pain lasts longer than a few days. Another note: you can buy pre-made mullein oil if you want immediate relief but don’t have the ingredients at hand; this is wackily expensive and not nearly as satisfying as crafting your own herbal apothecary. Of course, all that matters is that you're empowering yourself by taking your own health into your own hands and reaching for something whole and natural. Be well!