My marshmallow plants are in full flower and their beauty inspired me to write about their medicine. While the root of the marshmallow plant is most familiar to people. today we will discuss the medicinal properties of the aerial parts of the plant.
Not everyone is comfortable with harvesting roots; the idea of killing an entire plant to use the root is something some folks would prefer to avoid. And from the practical point of view harvesting roots is also a lot of work! The ideal time to harvest roots is after the plant had died back (or as it’s dying back) so scouting out the location prior so you know where to look is vital.
Because the root is most often used my herbalists there isn’t a lot of information about the aerial parts of the plant. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned through school and the use of the plant.
Latin name: Althaea officinalis
Common names: marshmallow, marsh mallow, common marshmallow
Parts used: root (not discussed here) and aerial parts – top 25-30% of the plant harvested beginning to middle of it’s flowering season
Constituents: Mucilage (including a low molecular-weight D-glucan); flavonoids (such as kaempferol, quercetin, and diosmetin glucosides); scopoletin (a courmarin); polyphenolic acids (including syringic, caffeic, salicylic, vanillic, p-courmaric) 1
Althaea is a perennial plant that can grow up to 4 feet (1.2 metres) in height producing a main stalk and a few lateral branches. The leaves which are oval and heart-shaped (oval-cordate) are approximately 2-3 inches long. Attached to stems via short petioles, the leaves are entire, irregularly toothed along the margin and soft and fuzzy on both sides.
Marshmallow’s five petaled flowers are pale in colour, ranging from white to pale pink. They contain both female and male organs (hermaphroditic) and are therefore self fertile. The bees in my garden seem to enjoy it immensely. Although often found in panicles, the flowers can sometimes form in the axils of the plant as well. The stamens unite into a tube and the anthers, often purple in colour, are kidney shaped.
The roots are pale yellow in colour on the outside and often white on the inside. They form thick, long and tapering roots. Marshmallow will tolerate most kinds of soil but does prefer sunny conditions and will not grow well in the shade.
The earliest recorded use of marshmallow was that of a food consumed all over the world including Rome, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Armenia. The entire plant, especially the roots, are know for their mucilage and are quite demulcent.
Anticatarrhal, anti-inflammatory, antiulcerogenic, astringent, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, febrifuge, nervine, relaxant, peripheral vasodilator, tranquilizer, vulnerary
There are no know contraindications with the plant. Due to it’s demulcent nature it is wise to take marshmallow herb (root especially) half an hour away from medications as it can slow the absorption of them. This is most true if using the root of the plant.
Medicinal Uses of the Herb
- Topical conditions (wounds, abrasions, bites, stings, rashes, cuts etc.)
- Internal conditions
- Inflammation of the eyes, inflammation of the vagina/cervix
- Inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract
- Mouth ulcers, sore throats, diarrhea, colitis, enteritis, gastric or duodenal ulcers
- Inflammatory conditions of the urinary tract
- Nephritis, cystitis, urethritis, urinary tract infections
- Upper respiratory (head colds, sinus infections)
- Lower respiratory (bronchitis, irritating cough, respiratory catarrh)
- Class Notes – Living Earth School
- Earthwise Herbal, The – Matthew Wood
- Holistic Herbal – David Hoffman
- Medical Herbalism – David Hoffman 1
- New Encylopedia of Herbs & Their Uses – Deni Bown
- Way of Herbs, The – Michael Tierra
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