Marshmallow Summary:

Marshmallow actualy comes from a plant that is called marshmallow. Modern day marshmallows are pure sugar and have no trace of the plant in them, but traditionally the candy was made from this plants roots. The roots of this plant contain a thick mucilage with a similar texture to egg whites. A strong decoction is made from the roots to extract this thick slippery mucilage. it is then combined with honey and whipped vigorously to create a sweet, foamy substance. After a few hours it will solidify leaving a white, fluffy, and sweet tasting candy known as marshmallows. 

The marshmallow plant has characteristically velvety, furry leaves, and is a common garden plant for its attractive flowers. The leaves and root can be used, but generally the root is preferred due to the higher mucilage content. 

The mucilage is very soothing to the skin (topically), and the digestive tract, lungs, and mucous membranes when taken internally. Other mallows have this effect as well, but not to nearly the same degree. 

The leaves also have this mucilage, but in less amounts. Generally, if using this herb for its demulcent action the whole plant can be used, but for lung and urinary tract the leaf is better, and for the digestive system the root is preferred. 


Botanical Name

Althaea officinalis

Family

Malvaceae

Part Used

Roots, leaves, flowers

Herbal Actions:

  • Demulcent
  • Urinary demulcent
  • Emollient
  • Diuretic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Expectorant
  • Antilithic
  • Vulnerary
marshmallow plant althaea officinalis.jpeg

Indications:

Leaves

Internally

  • Irritations of oral mucosa
  • Dry cough
  • Respiratory infections
    • Bronchitis
    • Respiratory catarrh
    • Irritating coughs
  • Cystitis, urethritis
  • Urinary gravel or calculi
  • For nutrition

Topically

  • Abscesses
  • Boils
  • Ulcers
  • Inflammation

Root:

Internally

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

Topically:

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

Dosage (Root)

Liquid Extract (1:1)

(25% Alcohol)

6-16 ml/day

Tincture (1:5)

(25% Alcohol)

3-12 ml/day

Glycetract (1:5)

3-12 ml/day

Infusion (Cold)

2-4 g in 250 ml water infused overnight.

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Dosage (Leaf)

Liquid Extract (1:2)

(25% Alcohol)

3-6 ml/day

Tincture (1:5)

(25% Alcohol)

3-12 ml/day

Special Notes

Water and Glycerine extracts will extract more mucilage than alcohol due to the mucilages high solubility in water and not alcohol.

 

Common Names:

  • Marshmallow
  • Mallards
  • Mauls
  • Schloss tea
  • Cheeses
  • Mortification Koot

Traditional Uses:

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 confectionary paste was made from the roots, which was used to sooth 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, inflammation of the mouth and pharynx, cystitis, urethritis, urinary calculus, and topically for abscesses, boils, and varicose ulcers [11]. 


    Botanical Description:

    Althaea officinalis is a member of the hollyhock genus in the mallow family (Malvaceae). The genus name "Althaea" is derived from the Greek word althaino which means "therapy". The species name officinalis refers to it'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, and 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, and 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, where as the root is preferred for the digestive tract [1]. 


    Constituents: 

    [1, 2]

    Leaf

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

    Root

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

     

     


    Pharmacology and 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 resistent 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 an 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 an 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 incision. This study found that the topical application of marshmallow (leaves) were 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 actions. Furthermore, the hydroalcoholic extract used in this study were able to inhibit gram-positive bacteria, though was not effective in gram negative bacteria. Antimicrobial treatment is one of the most important steps involved with the wound healing process, as 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. 

     

    Toxicity

    • None known [8, 11]
    • No contraindications noted with pregnancy and lactation [11]. 
     

    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]. 


    Traditional Chinese Medicine:

    Still compiling research. 


    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

    The Sunlight Experiment

    Updated: June 2017


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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