Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Marshmallow is a perennial herb in the Malvacea family that can grow up to 5 feet in height, typically in bogs and swamps, damp meadows, and near stream beds. It is an upright plant with hairy, branching stems and velvety grey green leaves that are lobed and toothed. In the summer, it blooms small radial flowers in hues of pink to white. Marshmallow can be grown from seed (springtime), cuttings, or root division (in the fall), and it grows best in moist soils under full sun. The leaves should be collected after the plant has flowered, and the roots in the late autumn and dried immediately.

Medicinal Uses
The naturally sweet marshmallow roots have a spongey mucilaginous interior, which swells and forms a soothing gel when combined with water, making it a soothing tonic for the digestive system and inflammations of the mouth. Externally, this mucilage is also soothing for burns, cuts, scraps, weather damaged skin, and minor wounds. The roots are also demulcent, expectorant, diuretic, and emollient, making them especially good for gastritis, upset stomach, ulcers, enteritis, and colitis. Marshmallow root is also used for treating inflamed tissue of the lungs and sore throats caused by coughs, bronchitis, colds, and the flu. Studies have also shown that marshmallow root improves your white blood cell’s ability to destroy pathogens, making it an immune boosting therapeutic herb as well. Other studies have shown that marshmallow helps lower and stabilize blood sugar, making it of interest for diabetics. The root can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable, and decocted in milk with ginger, it is considered rejuvenating. Combined with thyme, it reduces coughs. Marshmallow leaves have soothing and toning actions on the lungs and urinary system. It combines well with licorice, elecampane, and white horehound for bronchitis. Both roots and leaves can be prepared as tinctures, but the leaves should be prepared as a infusion or poultice, where as the roots should be prepared as a decoction. The young leaves can also be cooked or eaten raw in salads, along with the flowers and seeds.

Folk Uses
Traditionally, marshmallow has been used by many cultures for healing. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it for soothing wounds, bruises, and insect bites, and the ancient Roman naturalist Pliny considered it the most valuable daily health tonic. Tenth century Arab physicians used the root to treat inflammations, and European folk healers used it to treat urinary problems, sore throats, and upset stomaches. Not surprisingly, the French were the first to make confections with it, boiling and then adding sugar to the root to produce a sweet, spongey treat that eventually evolved into what we know as modern marshmallows.

A root decoction of 1-2 teaspoons of herb per cup of water, boiled for 10-15 minutes, drunk three times daily, or an infusion of 1-2 teaspoons of the leave, steeped for 10-15 minutes, drunk three times daily. As a tincture, 1-2 ml three times daily. An emollient compress or poultice can be made from the leaves for irritated skin.

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Marshmallow stems and roots.

Marshmallow stems and roots.