Marshmallow is one of my favorite herbs, I used to lay in the grass as a little girl eating the cheeses from the plant growing in our grass never knowing all the magic it contained. Its ability to enhance the immune system and urinary tract as well as the digestive system, respiratory system and its affinity for softening hardness, emotionally as well as physically makes Marshmallow an important herb to keep close to us.
Botanical name: Althea officinalis or Malva neglecta, Althea rosea ( Hollyhock)
Greek Roots: Althea is derived from Altho meaning to cure, Malvaceae is derived from Greek malake meaning soft. Which tells us a lot about this plant.
Common Name: mallow, marshmallow, cheeses, malva
Parts used: Leaves and roots
Geographical: there are 1000’s of the Althea species. Althea grows in damp salty marshes and ditches just about everywhere, common mallow can be found in most yards and is considered invasive here in Utah.
Taste: Sweet & Bland, the sweetness is due to the polysaccharides (many sugars) that help feed the gut microbiome. Sweet also is indicative that it is meant to nourish and strengthen.
Planet: Venus & Moon
Emotionally Marshmallow can bring fluidity back into our lives when we have started to feel dry and hardened to the world around us and help us feel again.
Energetics: Marshmallow has a pretty neutral temperature.
If someone is cold and dry then it would not make them more cold.
But it will cool off someone who is hot and dry because of it's moistening effects.
Polysaccharides (many sugars) are responsible for the demulcent properties as well as some mild immune stimulation. Another interesting factor with mucilaginous polysaccharides is that they are very large compounds, so large in fact that they are unable to physically cross the gut wall. So when you take a demulcent and feel it moisten your lungs, it’s not like those compounds are crossing the gut wall, traveling through the bloodstream, and binding to some receptor in the respiratory system to increase the mucosal membrane secretions. It’s a stellar example of a reflex action of an herb, meaning that the body is reacting to the presence of the plant- there is communication happening between the plant and the vital force of the body that is triggering the demulcent action upon the mucosa. It is theorized that this is occurring through cranial nerve X, or the vagus nerve. (1)
Marshmallow is very high in assimilable protein that can be used for muscle rebuilding.
Other Constituents include
Althaea officinalis contained pectins 11%, starch 25-35%, mono-, and di-saccharide, saccharose 10%, mucilage 5%, flavonoids (Hypolaetin-8-glucoside, isoquercitrin, kaempferol, caffeic, pcoumaric acid), coumarins, scopoletin, phytosterols, tannins, asparagine and many amino acids.(2)
Marshmallow is a demulcent, emollient, expectorant and a mildly diuretic, mildly astringent herb. Cool, so what does that mean?
A demulcent is a gelatinous substance that has an affinity to calm inflamed mucous membranes in the body and protect them from further irritation. It will also repair those damaged tissues from heat and inflammation.
Emollient means it is soothing to the skin topically and can soften hardness. In this way, it can be used on burns, cuts scrapes, and other skin conditions.
Demulcent Expectorant helps aid a dry cough by removing excess phlegm and mucous from the lungs.
Marshmallow really can be toning and moistening to many parts of the body. I have known herbalists who find it helpful to those with dry popping achy joints as well
Marshmallow and the -itis (digestive inflammation)
Gastritis, enteritis, & colitis., itis means inflammation. Marshmallow has a strong affinity to helping soothe inflammation, especially in the digestive tract and lungs. This is because of the effects it has on the mucosal membranes it enhances secretions and the activity of the mucosa to bring about healing.
Ulceration is another area in which mallow can be very soothing, too much use of antacids(NSAIDS) is usually the cause of this, they can literally tear the gut lining apart leaving room for overgrowth of bacteria like H Pylori or cause leaky gut and infection. Other medicines that can damage the gut such as antibiotics can cause imbalance as well, marshmallow can help rebuild the gut flora, lower the inflammation and help heal the tissues due to their mild astringent effect and the polysaccharides that provide prebiotic sugars.
Heartburn/GERD is often times treated with marshmallow because it can help soothe the rising burning feeling that is associated with these dis-eases. It also has a mild astringent effect that can help the sphincter muscle that connects the esophagus to the stomach.
Constipation that is caused by dryness-you can tell by looking at the movement if it is dry. If there is not enough moisture in the bowel then food will get stuck, it oftentimes isn’t just in the colon where things are stuck it is usually backed up into the intestines. We would reach for the marshmallow here to help increase the moisture in the GI Tract and bowel.
In constipation, you would want to use a cold tea, not a capsule. Marshmallow root powder is like a sponge it needs lots of water to become demulcent and slimy, now imagine you put it in your stomach and you are not drinking enough water, and it could make it worse.
On the opposite, diarrhea you can use capsules if it has gone on for a prolonged amount of time. But tea may still be recommended if there is dehydration from the excess bowel movements. (side note diarrhea most often is ridding our body of dangerous pathogens so we don’t always stop it at first site)
So overall it can help with either ailment. It could also be used as a sitz bath if hemorrhoids are present with constipation.
Marshmallow and the Lungs:
Marshmallow root is an expectorant that helps remove mucus and phlegm from the respiratory tract. Due to its demulcent and inflammation-modulating effects it can be very soothing and calming to a hot dry cough. As well as calming excessive spasms that follow these types of coughs such as bronchitis and emphysema it’s also been known to soften the hardened mucus that can make it hard to breathe, this is seen in ailments such as asthma or emphysema.
Marshmallow is one of my favorite remedies for a tight inflamed throat from either a sickness or an overused voice from singing or speaking a lot. It coats and soothes due to its demulcent effects.
All parts of the plant could be used here a syrup or tea or gruel would probably be best.
Marshmallow and Gangrene:
Dr. Christopher said that if obstinate inflammation and threatened mortification (gangrene) are present we should apply a poultice of the powdered or fresh crushed roots on the affected area as hot as possible and renew it before it dries. Do not allow the poultice to become cold, but reapply a new one (or supply new fresh, hot tea, after the cold soak). This can safely be used on open sores without danger of contamination.
Because of its demulcent/emollient effects, it lowers the inflammation and “stitches the skin back together like magic. I have seen many pictures where this was used with success, I have also used this on severe diabetic sores with the same results.
This is an invaluable herb that can be used as an herbal food as well as a soothing bath for helping to heal the worst of open sores.(3)
Marshmallow and the Kidneys/Urinary Tract:
If we look at the doctrine of signatures and see that marshmallow loves the salty marshes, then we realize how much of the healing actions come from the salty root. In TCM they teach that water follows salt, therefore Marshmallow would be the number one remedy to reach for when we want to bring fluid to an area that needs to be softened, such as kidney stones.
It can be used in bladder pain and UTI pain due to its soothing calming effects. In this area, we see -itis again as in cystitis for which we know Marshmallow has an affinity
Marshmallow and the Immune System: .
Immunity is not always what we talk about when we talk about marshmallow but the mucilagenic polysaccharides are seen as the same as the bacteria or pathogens by the immune system which triggers the immune system into action. Also, our mucosa plays a big role in protecting our bodies from pathogens so the fact that Marshmallow increases mucosa help enhance the immune system.
In Holistic Iridology we attribute apathy to the immune/lymph system. When we harden ourselves to the environment around us we tend to become apathetic, not feeling too sad or too happy but just… meh. I think marshmallow can help us here too, as we talked about earlier it can bring back fluidity to help us feel again softening the hardness we have created.
3 Parts Marshmallow 1 Part...
Cedar Berries (for Pancreas)
Parsley (for Kidneys)
Licorice (Throat or Ulcers)
Elecampane (for Lungs)
Astragalus (for Immune system)
1 Tbsp Marshmallow
2 Tbsp Cornsilk
1 Tbsp Uva Ursi
1 Tbsp Plantain
(not to be used during pregnancy)
By Kat Maier (4)
Cold Infusion: 4 Tbsp. Root or Leaves to 1 Qt. Water (Marshmallow root powder can also be reconstituted and used as a drink that can keep one from starvation.)
Tinctures: Alcohol should not be above 20% since Marshmallow is mostly water-soluble.
Capsules 4-6 daily
Pay attention to the type of person you are giving it to, if they seem damp then this is not for them.
Do not give to a person with a wet cough as it will worsen their symptoms.
Marshmallow should be taken at least 2 hours away from any pharmaceuticals as it can slow their absorption, especially in insulin or diabetic medications.
This article is only meant to educate. It is not intended to replace any medical advice.