Soothing Herb Monograph: Althaea Officinalis (Marshmallow)

Pale marshmallow flowers, Goldcliff Marsh, Gwent (pink on Gower), August 1983
“Pale marshmallow flowers, Goldcliff Marsh, Gwent (pink on Gower), August 1983” by Mary Gillham Archive Project is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Since ancient times, the stately perennial, Althaea officinalis, has offered humans food and medicine. Recently, I’ve been getting to know this beautiful plant better since it’s a soothing herb for an irritating case of acid reflux.

Below you’ll find my simple but growing herbal profile for mallow. I’ve included harvesting tips in the hopes I’ll be able to grow my own someday!

Marshmallow Monograph

Latin Name and Family

Althaea officinalis is part of the Malvaceae family.

Key Constituents

Both roots and leaves contain mucilage. I mainly use the roots, which also has around 35 % pectin [1]Hoffman D. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Simon and Schuster; 2003, p. 526 and tannins.

Parts Used

Root and leaf.

Actions

Demulcent (soothing), emollient (topical softener), expectorant, diuretic, anti-inflammatory.

Safety

Marshmallow has a high content of mucilage, and can affect the absorption rate of medications. Some herbalists suggest waiting 1-2 hours in between taking medications. As with any herb, please check with your doctor before use, especially if you are on certain medications or have health conditions. 

Preparations

Topically as cream, lotions, hair rinse; internally as capsules, tea, tincture, syrups.

Uses

To soothe irritated mucous membranes. From the cold sores in your mouth to digestive irritations, marshmallow’s demulcent action helps coat and comfort. I have yet to try a hair rinse but have heard positive feedback from those with curly hair. 

Folklore

The culinary use of mallow or marshmallow goes far beyond the creation of marshmallow treats. For example, the 1931 book, A Modern Herbal, describes mallow eaten in ancient China, Greece, and Egypt [2]Grieve M. Mallows. https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mallow07.html. Published 1995. Accessed July 31, 2020.

Picture of 2 pounds of marshmallow root

How I Use

My favorite method is a cold infusion of marshmallow root, which is comforting for sore throats. I cover the roots in lukewarm water overnight and sip on it throughout the next day. 

I also mix it with other herbs, like one of my favorites, calendula, in tincture form, but I really prefer this soothing herb as a tea.

Harvesting 

When harvesting marshmallow root, wait until at least the second year, if possible. I prefer pulling roots in the fall, but you can also harvest in the winter or spring. Digging up the root during autumn should offer you the highest mucilage concentration. If you don’t have the space to grow the large plant, there are many ways to buy it from reputable companies.

Sources

During the pandemic, many go-to herbal sources have faced understandable delays. So it’s handy to have a few trustworthy stores or farms where you can compare prices and availability.

Currently, I’m buying marshmallow root by the pound, so I’ve been ordering from Pacific Botanicals, which has a $50 minimum. 

If you want to buy in smaller quantities, try Mountain Rose Herbs, or if you’re fortunate to live near a natural store with bulk herbs, support local! I visit Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, MA, when I’m running low between shipments. 

While I’m focusing on using marshmallow root as a soothing herb for digestive irritation, I’m really interested in its anti-inflammatory actions. Fair warning, this won’t be the last you hear of marshmallow on my blog!

Are you using marshmallow root? What are your favorite recipes?

Next Friday, I’ll share my monograph for one of the easiest and most cheerful plants to grow, calendula!

References[+]

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