"As for me, olives, endives, and smooth mallows provide sustenance." - Horace, Roman Poet, 1st C.Bce.

Marshmallow Althaea officinalis

The mighty marshmallow has been healing, soothing, softening, and calming us since antiquity. Ancient Egyptians used it medicinally. The Romans cooked with it, and used it as a laxative. The Persians cleaned with it. She was brought along to the States from Europe as a highly valued medicinal plant. Marshmallow's scientific name, Althaea, comes from the Greek word, althainein, meaning “to heal”. Its common name, Marsh-mallow, has two parts. 1) Her surname, Mallow, because she is a member of the Malvaceae, or mallow family. Other medicinal mallow family members include cacao, cotton and hibiscus. 2) Her first name is marsh because she thrives with her feet in the water and her face in the sunshine. Marshmallow adores the water. You often find this sweet, herbaceous perennial in marshes, and river beds.   

This is good to know when trying to remember what her medicinal uses are. When you think of marshmallow, think of water. It is cooling, soothing, and has slimy things in it. I’m not joking. Marshmallow is cooling, soothing, and has tons of mucilage, aka, slimy things in it. Mucilage is a polysaccharide that turns into a thick, slippery, viscous substance in water. Sounds weird, but mucilage is what gives marshmallow its powerful anti-inflammatory and demulcent properties. Marshmallow is the master at healing dried or irritated mucous membranes. This in turn makes her an ideal candidate to help with respiratory, digestive, and urinary system disorders. This wierd, slimy mucilage protectively coats the linings of these systems and promotes cell regeneration.

 Demulcent- a substance that relieves irritation of the mucous membranes by forming a protective film.

So how do you benefit from the magical marshmallow?

The medicinal great grandfather of the stay-puft marshmallow, pate de guimauve, was originally made with marshmallow root. Later the plant material was replaced with sugar and gelatin.

Marshmallow loves water, and should be used with a liquid to awaken her full potential. Using her as a tea, compress, gargle, or bath are all excellent ways to reap her benefits. The flowers and leaves are edible and contain some mucilage, and antioxidants, but not as much as the root. When you buy marshmallow powder in the store it is typically made from all parts of the plant and should list the amount of root in the powder. You can also cook with marshmallow. Use the above mentioned powder into some yogurt to add some helpful antioxidants. Her flowers will add a splash of color to salads. You can use her mucilage to thicken soups and sauces, and can even be used as an egg white substitute. You can also go old school and make, you guessed it, marshmallows. Overall the plant has a slightly sweet, but very earthy flavor.

Why use Marshmallow?

Properties: alterative, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, decongestant, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, laxative, nutritive, and vulnerary.

The above list is a fancy way of saying marshmallow is a soothing, calming, plant that will heal, feed, and flush your system. As I said, the magic is in the mucilage. Not only does it forma protective coating on your tissues, it binds to the bad stuff and flushes it out. Marshmallow is also antibacterial and packed with antioxidants. Let’s take a system by system look at what types of conditions marshmallow excels at healing.

Digestive System

The mucilage in marshmallow lays a soothing, cooling coat over your entire digestive tract. Inflammatory digestive issues such as gastritis, colitis, or IBS can benefit from drinking marshmallow root tea. This lining can also provide relief from heartburn, leaky gut syndrome and gastric ulcers. Gargle with some marshmallow tea, sweetened with honey to soothe a sore throat. Swish with the tea to help soothe and heal oral abscesses and ulcers.

Marshmallow root is an excellent substitute for slippery elm bark. Slippery elm is a dead useful plant often used in throat lozenges, which, unfortunately, is now endangered due to overharvesting. 

Urinary System

Just as marshmallow coats the digestive system with it’s magical mucilage, it will also coat your urinary system. The mucilage, along with marshmallows antibacterial and diuretic properties make her an ideal treatment for UTI’s, bladder infections, and bladder inflammations. It can also help flush kidney stones. 

Respiratory System

Marshmallow is also a powerful cough suppressant that suppresses unproductive coughs and promotes productive, healing coughs. It’s antibacterial nature and ability to loosen mucus make it an ideal candidate to help recover from colds. As an expectorant, marshmallow also helps rid the respiratory tract of excess mucus relieving sinus and chest congestion. As an anti-inflammatory, marshmallow can help with asthma, bronchitis, and pleurisy. Boil the dried root with milk and honey to make a treatment for bronchitis and croup. Drinking marshmallow tea will also soothe dry and inflamed sinuses. 

Cardiovascular System

Marshmallow root can increase good cholesterol. There are also studies being conducted testing marshmallow flower extract for this as well. This increase in HDL combined with marshmallows diuretic properties, help flush the body of excess fluids. This makes it a potent tonic for cardiovascular health. 

Hair Care

Marshmallow provides vitamins and proteins for your hair. When used in haircare, marshmallow will leave strands shiny, soft, and flexible. It will add body by increasing strand thickness and promoting growth. The emollient properties can reduce damage to hair. If you suffer from dandruff or an itchy scalp, look for marshmallow in your hair care products. 

Skin Care

Marshmallow doesn’t stop at soothing the inner linings of your body. She’s happy to soothe the outer lining of your body too. Used in a salve, or as a poultice marshmallows anti-inflammatory nature heals bruises, wounds, burns, boils, and dermatitis. As an emollient she likes to ease eczema, psoriasis, and dry skin.

A Little Hoodoo For Ya

Shockingly, marshmallow is said to be a feminine plant, ruled by the water element and the moon. In folklore Marshmallow was used as a funerary herb. It was associated with death and rebirth. People used to plant marshmallow by gravesites to honor those that had passed. Some traditions still use marshmallow in ancestry work. 

It was also a popular ingredient in love and fertility potions. It was said that if you put a bunch of marshmallow in your window it will bring a straying partner home. I say skip the marshmallow and find a better partner, but to each their own. Marshmallow is also a cleansing herb for the body and spirit. It can be burnt in the same manner as sage or thyme to cleanse a space.

Growing Season

Fall is the season to harvest any type of root. The plants are past flowering and are starting to put their energy back into the ground. 

Early fall is the best time to sew marshmallow seeds. The seeds like to spend a few months in the cold before they start to sprout. Fall is also the season to harvest the roots once the plants are over two years old. You can sew the seeds in the spring, but they may have to be refrigerated first. Once summer rolls around she will put on quite the show with her beautiful blooms.

Precautions and Contraindications

Marshmallow is generally safe and has little to no known adverse effects. She can, however, interfere with the absorption of other drugs or herbs due to her coating nature. Wait about an hour after you take medications to partake of marshmallows magic.