Common Name: Marshmallow Root
Latin Name: Althaea officinalis
History: We all know Marshmallow as our favourite sweet and sticky campfire treat. However, these white, soft confectionary pillows originally came from the root of a common herb and was the original marshmallow. Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) belongs to the mallow family, which includes hollyhock, okra, and a variety of other medicinal plants.
The name is taken from its natural habitat as these beautiful tall perennials with soft gray-green leaves and pink or white flowers grow mainly in wet marshy areas.
Marshmallow roots contain plenty of mucilage (a gummy substance secreted by some plants containing protein and carbohydrates) making it an excellent demulcent – aiding in soothing inflamed tissue.
Marshmallow is also highly nutritive; Romans and Greeks valued it as a delicious root vegetable.
The French turned marshmallow into the confection we know and love today by cooking the gummy juices of the roots with eggs and sugar, then whipping the mixture until light and airy. This thick sweet confection was used to soothe coughs and calm digestive upset in babies.
Parts Used: Root, leaf and flower
Constituents: Mucilage, starch, pectin, flavonoids, beta-carotene, vitamin B, calcium, sucrose and asparagine
Actions: Demulcent, emollient, expectorant, diuretic, vulnerary
Medicinal Uses: The high mucilage content of marshmallow root makes it an excellent demulcent that can be used similar to slippery elm to aid in digestive problems, lungs and urinary system irritations and skin issues.
For the digestive tract the roots of the herb are effective for excess stomach acid, helping to neutralize it. A tea made of marshmallow root has been used to aid colic for babies, constipation and diarrhea. Marshmallow root is more than 11% mucilage and 37% starch making it an exceptionally rich, nutritive tonic — a good example of food as medicine. It should be noted that it is a very safe herb for use internally.
The demulcent (soothing irritated or inflamed skin or mucous membranes) properties of marshmallow offer soothing respite from dry coughs, bronchitis and general irritation of the respiratory tract. Our pioneer parents cooked the root with honey or sugar forming it into soft balls to gave it to their children to soothe a sore throat or stomach upset — the original confection.
Topically marshmallow is excellent for dry, irritated skin. An ointment combined with chamomile is an effective remedy for skin rashes helping to heal the skin and calm inflammation. Great for eczema and dry skin it is particularly good for babies’ bums keeping it soft and dry. It can also be used in bath as a soothing wash — combined with oatmeal. Marshmallow used as a face mask is also apt for sensitive skin.
Susan Weed suggests soaking breasts in marshmallow root and slippery elm to soothe tender tissues, opening clogged ducts, helping to draw out infections by making an infusion of dried root to soak the breasts. Also helpful for sore and cracked nipples.