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Marshmallow: Althaea Officinalis

Botany: 

is a beautiful perennial plant with large pink flowers that blooms in the late summer and grows to be about 4-5ft tall (Crellin, et al., 1990). As suggested in the name, marshmallow is found in marshy areas and other wet places.  It is most commonly found in France, Germany, and some parts of the United States including mostly the northeastern states but also North Dakota, Nebraska, and Arkansas. Marshmallow can be grown in the garden with good soil and neutral pH. This plant is best in full sun, and since they grow to be very tall, they should be planted about 2 feet apart.

Chemistry: 

The root is usually the portion of the plant that is harvested. Marshmallow root contains about 25-35% mucilage which is indigestible for humans. This mucilage gives it the ability to sooth and heal digestive inflammation and internal irritations. The mucilage is the active agent that literally slides down the digestive tract and heals as is goes completely down the tract and leaves the body. The leaves also have this mucilage along with a trace of some essential oils and flavenoids (Kapoor, 1990).

Fun Fact: 

Unfortunately, this plant is not the active ingredient in the marshmallows we eat today. The actual marshmallow root was used as an old time confection with beaten egg whites and sugar. However, today the root has been replaced with animal gels and gums. These marshmallows are used to thicken food and to add flavor to some beverages, yet it lacks any medicinal properties due to the missing marshmallow root

History: 

Historically, Althaea officinalis was named by the Greeks who used it as their “official healer” with “Althos” meaning healer in Greek. In fact, Hippocrates used marshmallow for healing wounds. In the ancient times, Althaea officinalis was used for soothing coughs and colds along with irritated skin. This slimy plant was also eaten by the Romans and Egyptians as a vegetable on a daily basis. Also, the poor in Syria ate this plant to prevent starvation. Even in the bible marshmallow is mentioned as a plant used for food during times of famine. During the Renaissance period, Marshmallow was used for toothaches, stomach problems, coughs and colds, and skin irritations (Balch, 2002). Actually, Marshmallow was though thought have magical properties that gave psychic abilities for those that burned the plant and used it as an incense. The common factor in all of its ancient uses was a soothing and healing property which surprisingly is the key feature today.

Uses/Pharmacology: 

Today, this mucilage is used as an anti-inflammatory, soothing agent, and a stimulant to healing. The root is used for digestive problems and skin irritations, while the leaf is used for problems with the lungs and urinary system (Hermann, 1973). Also, an infusion of althea leaves can be prepared and applied as a compress to reduce inflammation of the eyelid. Strong teas are made from the leaves and used as a rinse for an abscess or boil. Henriette’s Herbs recommends that Althaea be boiled in wine or milk, or made into syrup for coughs and colds. Furthermore, any wild mallow flower is an excellent compress for wasp stings.  Marshmallow is a beautiful plant that can be used for any irritation inside or out. It’s medicinal properties include being an anti-inflammatory agent, soothing agent, and healing stimulant make this plant vey useful to have around in the case of injury.

Dosing/Recipes: 

Contraindications/Interactions/Adverse Reactions: 

References Cited:

Balch Phyllis A. Prescription for Herbal Healing [Book]. - New York : Avery, Penguin Putnam Inc., 2002.

Crellin John K. and Philpott Jane Herbal Medicine Past and Present [Book]. - Durham and London : Duke University Press, 1990. - Vol. II.

Hermann Matthias Herbs and Medicinal Flowers [Book]. - New York : Galahad Books, 1973.

Kapoor L.D. Handbook of Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants [Book]. - Boca Raton : CRC Press, 1990.

Researched By: Brittney Simmons