Marshmallow

marshmallow flower

Botanical: Althaea officinalis

Family: Malvaceae

parts used: flowers, leaves, roots

energetics: cooling, moistening

actions: anti-inflammatory, anti-tussive, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, immuno-stimulant, mucilaginous, nutritive, vulnerary

used for: dry cough, urinary tract infections, sore throat, heartburn, digestive ulcers and digestive inflammation, mouth ulcers, damage to skin and wounds, eczema

plant preparations: cold infusion, low alcohol tincture, syrup, poultice, powder, and why marshmallows of course!

Marshmallow herb originally comes to us from central Asia but has spread out from there. It natively grows in salt marshes and is an easy herb to grow in your garden.

Marshmallow grows to 3-5 feet in height. It’s a perennial herbaceous plant, meaning that it dies back in the fall and reappears in the spring.

Marshmallow flowers are pinkish to white and have five separate petals and many stamens. The stamens form a column around the pistil, giving it a distinct shape.

Malva neglecta, or common mallow, can be used very similarly to marshmallow and it grows virtually all over the US. If you are a gardener you probably know about the common mallow (Malva neglecta): for years, I regularly yanked it out of my garden beds. I now let it grow wherever it pleases as the common mallow has similar healing properties as marshmallow.

Marshmallow root is a Europe and parts of Asia native plant and is part of the Malvaceae family, a soft mucilaginous plant. Malvaceae is derived from the Greek word malake, which means soft. Almost all members of this family are used in similar ways to marshmallow herb. In parts of the country, the tops of the Marsh Mallow leaves are used for a variety of consumption purposes because of its stimulating properties that benefit the kidneys. It has also been used in beverages, candies, desserts, cosmetic creams, and was the fireside marshmallow’s origin. Its roots provide natural mucilage that is moistens, soothes, and supports the digestive, urinary tracts, and respiratory mucous membranes. Majority of marshmallows suggested uses derived from a long history of traditional healing systems.

Marshmallow root has been in use for centuries to treat a variety of health conditions, but most commonly skin conditions, digestive disorders and respiratory conditions. The main reason it provides this wide range of health benefits, is because it is a natural “mucilage,” meaning it acts like a soft fiber that can swell to form a protective, thick coating around membranes. It comes in a number of forms and supplements. While most users tolerate it well, it is important to note that some side effects may occur.

Common members of the Malvacaeae family include:

  • Rose of Sharon
  • Hollyhock (Althea rosea)
  • Common Mallow (Malva neglecta)
  • Globemallow (Sphaeralcea acerifolia)
  • Cotton (Gossypium herbaceum)

Using Marshmallow for Wellness

According to David Hoffman in Holistic Herbal:

“The high mucilage content of Marshmallow makes it an excellent demulcent. The root is used primarily for digestive problems, inflammations of the digestive tract and on the skin, whilst the leaf is used for the lungs and urinary system. For bronchitis, respiratory catarrh and irritating coughs consider Marshmallow leaf. It is very soothing in urethritis and urinary gravel. Externally, the root is indicated in varicose veins and ulcers as well as abscesses and boils.” [1]

Skin Wash

Marshmallow root is an amazing topical treatment for wounds and burns. In the past it was called mortification root because of its ability to prevent gangrene.

Externally, marshmallow root is very useful in the form of poultice, to discuss painful, inflammatory tumors, and swellings of every kind, whether the consequence of wounds, bruises, burns, scalds, or poisons; and has, when thus applied, had a happy effect in preventing the occurrence of gangrene. The infusion or decoction may be freely administered. – King’s American Dispensary, 1898

On Marshmallow Tincture

From a chemical constituents perspective, marshmallow root is best used as a cold infusion. Marshmallow roots are high in polysaccharides and starches. By using a cold infusion you extract mainly the mucilaginous polysaccharides. If you simmer the root you also extract the starches in the plant (which is okay; the cold infusion is considered to be a purer extract of the mucilage.)

Alcohol above 20% percent will break down the polysaccharides. Some herbalists make a decoction of the root and then preserve it with 20% alcohol. [2]

Dosage: The ideal serving size for marshmallow root extract is 1,200 mg (roughly 1/4 tsp). Take it once or twice daily. Like with all supplements, be sure to reach out to a doctor before adding this to your regimen. If you begin experiencing extreme side effects, discontinue use immediately and see a doctor.

Safety:

  • The mucilage properties of marshmallow may decrease how much pharma-medicine the body absorbs at one time, so if you also take pharma-medications by mouth to treat an illness, it is possible that marshmallow can interfere with their effects.
  • Because it has been used for so long safely and is considered a “time-honored approach to strengthening the body”, marshmallow comes along with very few side effects. GRAS

Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him. ~ Pliny

References:

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"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease" ~ Thomas Jefferson