Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

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Marshmallow Summary

Most people immediately think of the candy we roast over the campfire when they hear the word marshmallow. Although these candies no longer use the plant, the original recipe relied on the thick, sweet-tasting, mucilaginous texture of the marshmallow root.

The mucilage in marshmallow is both the reason it can be made into a delicious, fluffy treat, as well as the active constituents behind its medicinal uses.

Marshmallow mucilage, taken either from the roots or the leaves are useful for soothing irritated or damaged mucous membranes in the digestive tract and lungs. As such, marshmallow is indicated for inflammatory bowel disease, stomach and duodenal ulcers, and gut dysbiosis. It is also used for chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and other inflammatory lung disorders affecting the mucosa.

 

+ Indications

Internally

  • Colitis
  • Constipation
  • Cystitis
  • Dry cough
  • Enteritis
  • Gastric or peptic ulcers
  • Gastric Ulcers
  • Gastritis
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Irritations of gastric mucosa
  • Irritations of oral mucosa
  • Respiratory inflammation and irritation leaves are preferred
  • Urinary tract infections leaves preferred
  • Weak mucous production

Topically

  • Bruises
  • Burns
  • Inflammation
  • Muscle soreness or damage
  • Sprains
  • To prevent tanning 5
  • Varicose ulcers
  • Wounds

+ Contraindications

  • may reduce absorption of other medications if taken at the same time.

Herbal Actions:

  • Demulcent
  • Emollient
  • Diuretic
  • Anti-inflamatory
  • Expectorant
  • Antilithic
  • Vulnerary
 

What is Marshmallow Used For?

Marshmallows are most commonly used to treat irritations of the mucous membranes and epithelial tissue throughout the body, including the respiratory tract, digestive tract, and the skin.

The roots and leaves are used topically to treat bruising, wounds, allergic rashes, inflammation, and muscle damage or soreness.

 

Traditional Uses of Marshmallow

Marshmallow, as with the other mallows, was commonly used as food by the Romans, where it was considered a delicacy [4].

It has also been reported that it was used as a food by the Chinese, and Egyptians as well [4].

Pliny suggested that taking marshmallow as a preventative for all disease and illness [4].

Arab physicians used the leaves as a poultice to suppress inflammation [4].

In France, a confectionery paste was made from the roots, which was used to soothe sore chest, coughs, and hoarseness. They also consumed the tops and tender leaves of marshmallow in spring salads for its ability to stimulate the kidneys. [4].

Due to the well known soothing actions of marshmallow, both inside and out, it has a long history of use for conditions such as inflammation, and lozenge making [4]. It was also used to treat respiratory catarrh, cough, peptic ulcers, swelling of the mouth and pharynx, cystitis, urethritis, urinary calculus, and topically for abscesses, boils, and varicose ulcers [11].

 

Technical Data: Marshmallow

Weekly Dose

Part Used

  • Roots & leaves

Family Name

  • Malvaceae

Distribution

  • Europe and the Middle East

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Constituents of Interest

  • Mucilage
  • Pectin
  • Scopoletin
  • Polypheenolic acids

Common Names

  • Marshmallow
  • Mallards
  • Mauls
  • Schloss Tea
  • Mortification Root

Pregnancy

No adverse effects expected.

Duration of Use

  • This herb is suitable for long-term use
 

Botanical Information

Marshmallow is a part of the Malvaceae family of plants. This family contains about 4225 different species, spread through 244 different genera. Other members in this family include okra, cacao, cotton, durian, and hibiscus.

The genus name "Althaea" is derived from the Greek word althaino which means "therapy."

The species name officinalis refers to marshmallow's official use as medicine. [5].

Marshmallow is a perennial herb, found growing all over Europe with a tendency towards the wetter areas. It has a long and tapering taproot, where a good portion of its mucilage and other medicinal components are contained. [4].

Marshmallow leaves are short, petioled, ovate-cordate, entire, and irregularly toothed at the margin. They are soft and velvety on both sides [4].

The marshmallow is differentiated from the common mallow by the numerous divisions of the outer calyx, and by the furry leaves and stems. The flowers are also much paler than the common mallow. [4].

 

Habitat Ecology, & Distribution:

Marshmallow is native to most of Europe and the Middle East. It can be found growing in salt marshes, and damp meadows and ditches [4, 12].

 

Harvesting Collection, & Preparation:

Marshmallow root and leaves (preferably root) is often boiled with wine or milk to treat respiratory tract infections. It can also be decocted and used as a demulcent or emollient [4]. It may be preferred, especially with children to make this into a syrup by mixing with honey.

A root decoction can also be used as a substitute for eggs in many cases.

The leaves can be eaten raw [4].

Although the whole plant can be used as a demulcent, the leaves are generally preferred for the urinary tract and lungs, whereas the root is preferred for the digestive tract [1].

 

Pharmacology & Medical Research

+ Antimicrobial

In a study investigating the antimicrobial actions of 29 plants with a traditional usage for respiratory infection, has concluded that the flavonoids of Althaea officinalis leaves and flowers may be utilized in the treatment of multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [9].

+ Demulcent and Emollient

The roots contain the majority of the mucilage content. However, the leaves can also be used as they too include a strong mucilage profile [1, 2, 4].

Another interesting action that marshmallow root has on the skin is inhibition of melanocyte proliferation and differentiation. This action will result in an inhibition of pigmentation of the skin following exposure to UVB radiation. The mechanism of action for this was found to be through inhibition of the ET-1-induced activation of the intracellular signal transduction pathway, as well as inhibiting the production of ET-1 in the keratinocytes. [5]. ET-1 is a potent vasoconstrictor [6]. Therefore it may be possible that the inhibition of this peptide results in at least some of marshmallows anti-inflammatory and demulcent activates by preventing vasoconstriction in the inflamed tissue.

A marshmallow flower was found to possess anti-ulcer actions in a peptic ulcer model in rats. The action was suggested to be due to antioxidant and antihistamine actions of the extract. [10, 12].

+ Hypoglycemic

The mucilage has been demonstrated to produce hypoglycaemic actions in non-diabetic mice [3].

+ Vulnerary

The leaves of Althaea officinalis were tested on wounds on rats via an incision.

This study found that the topical application of marshmallow (leaves) was able to speed healing times and lessen the incidence of secondary infection. The mechanisms of action suggested by this study were considered to be through multiple actions including anti-inflammatory action, and antioxidant effects.

Furthermore, the hydroalcoholic extract used in this study were able to inhibit gram-positive bacteria, though it was not effective in gram-negative bacteria. Antimicrobial treatment is one of the most critical steps involved with the wound healing process, as a secondary infection is a common side effect of wounds [7].

To make marshmallow a better vulnerary, herbs with known antibacterial activity against gram-negative bacteria should be combined.

 

Phytochemistry

+ Root

  • Mucilage (18-35%) [1]
  • Starch
  • Pectin (35%) [1]
  • Oil
  • Sugar
  • Asparagine (1-2%) [1]
  • Phosphate of lime
  • Cellulose
  • Glutinous matter [4]

+ Leaves

  • Mucilage
    • Including low molecular weight D-glucan
  • Flavonoids
    • Kaempferol
    • Quercetin
    • Diosmetin glucosides
  • Scopoletin
  • Polyphenolic acids
    • Syringic acid
    • Caffeic acid
    • Salicylic acid
    • Vanillic acid
    • p-Coumaric acid
 

Clinical Applications Of Marshmallow:

The rich mucilage content of marshmallow makes it useful for soothing and protecting the mucous membranes of the body. The effects of marshmallows soothing and anti-inflammatory effects can be seen in the respiratory tract and digestive tract when consumed orally, and on the skin when used topically. Both the leaves and the roots can be used.

The roots and leaves both provide antimicrobial action, and urinary demulcent activity, making it useful for treating urinary tract infections as well.

 

Cautions

Marshmallow mucilage may prevent or reduce the uptake of other nutrients or medications in the GIT, take away from other herbs, pharmaceuticals or supplements for this reason. [1].

 

Synergy

For use as a vulnerary, herbs or essential oils with known antibacterial actions, especially against gram-negative bacteria should be used in combination to make up for marshmallows ineffectiveness against this gram-negative bacteria.

 

Author:

Justin Cooke, BHSc

The Sunlight Experiment

(Updated May 2019)

 

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References:

  1. Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press. (Pg. 526-527)

  2. Wren RC. (N.D) Potters new cyclopedia of botanical drugs and preparations. 8th ed.

  3. Tomodo M. (1987). Hypoglycemic activity of twenty plant mucilages and three modified products. Planta Medica. 53:812.

  4. A Modern Herbal. (1931). Mallow (Marsh). Retrieved from http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mallow07.html

  5. Kobayashi, A., Hachiya, A., Ohuchi, A., Kitahara, T., & Takema, Y. (2002). Inhibitory Mechanism of an Extract of Althaea officinalis L. on Endothelin-1-Induced Melanocyte Activation. Biol. Pharm. Bull, 25(2), 229-234. doi:10.1248/bpb.25.229

  6. Yanagisawa M, Kurihara H, Kimura S, Tomobe Y, Kobayashi M, Mitsui Y, Yazaki Y, Goto K, Masaki T (1988). A novel potent vasoconstrictor peptide produced by vascular endothelial cells. Nature 332:411–415

  7. Rezaei M, Dadgar Z, Noori-ZadehA, Mesbah-Namin A.A, Pakzad I, Davodian E. (2015). Evaluation of the antibacterial activity of the Althaea officinalis L. leaf extractand its wound healing potencyin the rat model of excision wound creation. Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine. 5(2).

  8. Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: Herbal formulations for the individual patient. Edinburgh [u.a.: Churchill Livingstone. (Pg. 321-324).

  9. Mehreen, A., Waheed, M., Liaqat, I., & Arshad, N. (2016). Phytochemical, Antimicrobial, and Toxicological Evaluation of Traditional Herbs Used to Treat Sore Throat. BioMed Research International, 2016, 1-9. doi:10.1155/2016/8503426

  10. Zaghlool, S., Shehata, B., Abo-Seif, A., & Abd El-Latif, H. (2015). Protective effects of ginger and marshmallow extracts on indomethacin-induced peptic ulcer in rats. Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine, 6(2), 421. doi:10.4103/0976-9668.160026

  11. Barnes, J., Anderson, L. A., & Phillipson, J. D. (2007). Herbal medicines (3rd ed.). London, United Kingdom: Pharmaceutical Press. (Pg 418-420).

  12. Hage-Sleiman, R., Mroueh, M., & Daher, C. F. (2011). Pharmacological evaluation of aqueous extract of Althaea officinalis flower grown in Lebanon. Pharmaceutical Biology, 49(3), 327-333. doi:10.3109/13880209.2010.516754