Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

What is Marshmallow?

The marshmallow plant was the original source of the fluffy confectionary we now know as a marshmallow. The root and leaves of the plant have a very high concentration of mucilage (long-chain sugar molecules) which behave a lot like egg whites. If you make a strong infusion of marshmallow and whisk aggressively for a few moments, it forms a thick white foam that can be flavored and left to dry — resulting in what we know today as marshmallows.

Keep in mind that the marshmallow plant is no longer used to make the marshmallows you can pick up at the store. These are made with pure sugar and other additives to give the desired texture.

The Greek name for Althea (the botanical name for the mallow family of plants) means “therapy” — painting a picture of how the herb was viewed in Europe. The marshmallow plant was (and still is) an important medicinal herb.

The marshmallow plant is considered a mucous membrane tonic — which means it’s target tissue is the mucous membranes of the mouth, lungs, and digestive tract. the thick mucilage forms a soothing and protective barrier to the sensitive mucous membranes — helping to reduce irritation and dryness of the tissue.

Even though marshmallow doesn’t come into direct contact with the lungs, the herb has a powerful soothing action to these vital organs. The herb is especially useful during upper or lower respiratory tract infections or irritation involving a hoarse, dry cough.

The mucilage of the marshmallow root and leaves are also used to relieve stomach ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, and topically for dry or irritated skin.

Common Names for Marshmallow

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

Herbal Actions of Marshmallow

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

Safety & Contraindications

Marshmallow is a very safe herb. The main concern comes with the high mucilage content of the herb — which can reduce the absorption of other important minerals and vitamins through the digestive tract. To avoid this issue, take marshmallow at least one hour away from meals.