Back To Plant Files

Common Name: Marshmallow | Scientific Name: Althaea Officinalis

Family Name: Malvaceae


Fact sheet
Chapter from My book “Back Yard Medicine Chest”

Fact Sheet

Part Used: Root

Remember this: healing touch plant

Reasonable uses: sun burn, chaffed and irritated skin, burns, wounds, minor injuries, sore throat, sore respiratory tract, sore urinary tract, sore digestive tract, anytime when tissue is inflamed and needs healing.

History and Traditional Uses
Centuries ago, royal dinners in Europe concluded with a trendy dessert called pate de guimauve, a spongy mix of sugar, egg whites, and ground marshmallow root. Thus, the marshmallow was born. But its slippery, slightly sweet main ingredient had already been established for thousands of years as a soothing remedy for irritated tissues, when taken internally and applied externally.

More than 2,000 years ago, the Greeks employed marshmallow to ease bladder infections, diarrhea, digestive upset, and respiratory problems—the same cures that prompted Puritans to grow this European herb in Colonial America. When healing was required, marshmallow was called to the case.

Scientific Back Up
Modern day marshmallow candy doesn’t contain real marshmallow root, but researchers have discovered why this pretty marsh-dwelling plant calms and heals wounded skin and mucous membranes. The root contains a hefty 35% mucilage, a slippery, slimy, indigestible complex sugar that coats, cools, and moisturizes wounded, inflamed tissue from the throat to the intestines and on through the urinary tract. Marshmallows’ slime will take the red out of sunburn, the burning out of acid indigestion, or the scald out of a urinary tract infection.

Herbalists Use It To…
Heal the Protective Wrapping
There are thousands of expensive skin care products on the market and herbalists find this amusing. Especially since the cheap and effective swamp dwelling marshmallow root is so available. When Marshmallow is applied to angry skin, it quickly cools and heals. Though this product has been replaced by the more expensive Aloe vera, herbalists still stand behind its poultice power.

Dose Digestive Dramas
After a digestive drama, either vomiting or diarrhea, the tissues that line the digestive tract are not happy. Even after the high drama ends, they feel sore and raw. Herbalists recommend marshmallow be used to speed the damage done by a digestive trauma. The unpleasant sensations disappear and normal digestion returns more rapidly.

Soothe a Disturbed Respiratory Tract
Respiratory viruses move into the tissues that line the breathing apparatus and make them red and raw. Coughing is painful. The nerves that initiate coughing become irritated and initiate unnecessary coughing. Herbalists use marsh mallow to take the pain out of a cough and end the ceaseless coughing.

Quiet an Angry Urinary Tract
Many people complain urinary tract discomfort even after they finish their antibiotics. The reason is simple. The bacteria have ripped up the tissues that line the urinary tract and even though the are gone, the ripped up tissue remains red and raw. Herbalists recommend marshmallow to soothe painful tissues which are a part of a urinary tract infection.

Shopping tips
Though the leaf and the root are both used medicinally, most herbalists agree the root is the more powerful of the two. Purchase products that clearly state marshmallow root. Avoid products containing other herbal remedies.

Marshmallow may slow absorption of other medications taken at the same time.

Digestive upset: Chamomile(Chamomilla recutitia)
Respiratory upset: Licorice(Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Urinary tract upset: Uva-ursi(Arctostaphyllos uva-ursi)
Skin upset: Aloe(Aloe vera)

Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest”

Sun burns, itchy skin, cuts with and without scabs, sores that won’t heal and more.

Though I imagine you are thinking I am about to suggest you apply marshmallows to your skin when it finds itself irritated and you are right. One little known fact is that Marshmallows, no made of sugar and gums, were once made from a plant, and indeed it is called the Marshmallow plant. The raw ingredient in this old time confection was a mallow plant that is inclined to grow in the marsh. Its roots have a large quantity of a very slimy substance called mucilage contained in them. Several centuries ago a very chic desert called pate de guimauve was made my grinding the root and adding the resulting powder to beaten egg whites and sugar. The end result was a pre-historic marshmallow served at many a royal dinner. This pate was also known as marsh-mellows. In time the ground marshmallow root was replaced by animal gels and gums and today there is hardly a natural ingredient in the confections found at the grocery store. This wasn’t always the case.

Though we no longer use marshmallow root in candy making, herbalists have always and continue to use marshmallow to sooth irritated tissue, whether inside or outside the body. The plant is native to Europe , but it has been dragged around the globe by the colonials and can be found growing in moist spots world wide.

The marshmallow and the slime it produces belongs to a very slimmy family, the mallow family. The family includes okra, cotton, hibiscus, and hollyhock. The common denominator with these plant is their production of a viscous slime-okra being the slimiest member. If you have ever eaten okra or bindi as it is called in Indian cuisine, you are familiar with the slime in question. 1000 species of mallows have been discovered around the globe and all have this slimy quality to a degree.

The slime found in mallow plants is made of a high amount of mucilage, a complex sugar made up a number of polysacharides. One of the polysacharides is made up of l-rhmanose, d-galactose, d-galacturonic acid, and d-glucoronic acid. The structure of the polysacharides contained in marshmallow are such that they are indigestible by the human body, the bonds are arranged in such a fashion the enzymes in the body responsible for breaking up sugar cant get their hands around them strongly enough to crack them into absorbable pieces. Beyond polysacharides the root contains pectin, another sugar, asparagine, and tannins.

Marshmallow and its particular brand of slime is the most famous of the slimy relations for soothing irritated tissues-inside or outside the body. The indigestible nature of the slime is important when using it for internal irritations as it will slither its way down the digestive tract soothing as it goes. It wont be digested in its movement so you are guaranteed soothing from top to bottom.

The leaves are used as medicine as well as the root of the marshmallow plant. The leaves are of a slightly different chemical make up and contain the same mucilage as the roots but additionally they come packing flavanoids including kaemferol, quercetin, diosmetin glucosides, the coumarin scopoletin, and phenolic acids including syringic acid, caffeic acid, salicyclic acid, and vanillic acid.

We aren’t really accustomed to putting many slimy things in our mouths and as such vegetables like okra have a limited following. Though our palates may have a problem with the consistency, our tissues love the stuff. The internal uses of marshmallow include everything from healing an irritated respiratory tract to a sore intestinal tract, and a bent out of shape urinary system. We aren’t going to be bothered by these uses other than to note that the plant is used as a soothing anti-inflammatory. We are concerned here with skin!

When it comes to the skin marshmallow has been used to treat abscesses, boils, varicose veins, ulcers, inflammation of the mouth and throat, inflamed hemorrhoids, wounds, burns, scalds, and bedsores. One of the most famous uses for marshmallow is its use in “drawing creme.” Marshmallow combined with slippery elm was made into a paste and applied to a splinter and miraculously the combination would draw out the splinter and speed the healing of the wound. Marshmallow was used to draw out anything that had gotten into the skin which the owner of the hide wanted out, be that a splinter, thorn, or even bee stinger.

I had never had the chance to use marshmallow on a bee sting until recently and I was astounded at the results. My nephew Nicholas was out in his grandmother, my mothers yard playing. He came onto a nest of hornets which promptly came after him and attacked him in the vicious manner for which they are famous. I happened to be at the house when he was stung and unfortunately I didn’t have my herb bag with me. As the poor child screamed I looked out in my mothers herb garden and saw some marshmallow growing. In a matter of minutes I had ground the leaves of the plant in the food processor and had them packed on my nephews stings. A Virginia hornet sting can hurt a grown up for days and for kids its even worse. I am happy to report that my nephew’s sting went away completely within two hours time! Marshmallow’s ability to draw foreign matter out of the skin is quite famous and after this little drama I can attest to the fact it works.

After this event I came across a paragraph in Maude Grieves “A Modern Herbal” and it backed my experience up,” The fresh leaves, steeped in hot water, and applied to the effected parts as poultices, also any place where stung by wasps or bees take away the pain, inflammation, and swelling. Pliny stated that the green leaves, beaten with nitre and applied drew out thorns and prickles in the flesh.” If you have active kids or are an active adult, keep either a marshmallow plant in the garden or some dried leaves in stock for when someone has a run in with a winged terrorist or a splintery piece of wood. Gerard agreed with all of this, but included any occasion when pain was emanating from the skin,

” The mucilage or slimie juice of the roots, is mixed very effectively with all oils, ointments, and plasiters that slacken and mitigate paine. It cureth rifts of the fundament, it comforteth , defndeth , and preserveth dangerous greene wounds from any manner of accidents that may happen thero, it helpeth digestion in them, and bring old ulcers to maturation.” Old herbalists felt that it not only made the skin feel better when hurting, but speeded the healing process. At that time people with wounds that refuse to heal were treated with marshmallow to good effect. The same is true today.

Marshmallow was described by Dioscorides two thousand years ago, lets say it has been used in domestic medicine from the earliest periods. Charlemagne ad 724-814 demanded that it be cultivated in his domain due to its healing capacity. He did this not necessarily for humanitarian reasons. He kept a staff of soldiers pretty busy and soldiers and war means wounds, and wounds need healing. Marshmallow grows throughout Europe, Asia Minor, Western and Northern Asia . Where ever it grows and people know it, it is used in medicine to heal the skin.

The scientific name of marshmallow is Althea officinalis and this comes from its ancient uses. Although in Greek means to heal and the plant was called “the official healer”. Besides being used in medicine and in the making of marshmallows, the root was eaten by the Roman troops as a root vegetable as did the Egyptians. This would have been a major slimy mouth sensation! Grieve says that the poor in Syria use the marshmallow root for food on a regular basis. Apparently when cooked with butter its quite a tasty dish? In the bible it is recorded as a food eaten in time of famine.

While its use as a food is a bit suspect, its use in medicine is famous and smart. Horace tells us the leaves and the roots are a great laxative. Dioscorides was crazy about the root as a medicine and listed a great number of illnesses that are effectively checked with it. Pliny said this, ” Who ever shall take a spoonful of the mallows shall that day be free from all disease that may come to him.” That line sounds like an advertisement from one of the cosmetic companies about one the miracle creams on the market. I wouldn’t go as far as Pliny went on the plants ability to heal, I would agree with the ancient Arab physicians when the said marshmallow would resolve inflammations of the skin of all kinds when laid on the problem site in a poultice.

If you have a wound that wont heal, or a wound that you want to heal quickly, or a patch of skin that is giving you a problem, laying some marshmallow on it will get the healing process going. Grieve also said this about the plant visavis the skin, ” The powdered or crushed fresh root make a good poultice that will remove the most obstinate inflammation and prevent mortification. Its efficacy in this direction has earned its name of mortification root.” What a lovely name, rotting flesh root! The realities of life aren’t all that pretty and you really dont want any part of you to rot! Here again we see the powerful healing attributes of the plant – when laid on a wound gangrene was said not to set in.

Marshmallow has received a fair amount of attention from the scientific research community. It has been thought that the slime the leaves and root produce soothed irritated tissue by placing a protective coating over it. The thought was that the action of the plant was purely physical in the way putting a bandaid on a cut doesn’t really do anything to speed the healing or stop the pain. There is increasing evidence that there is more to its action than that. Marshmallow acting as both anti-inflammatory and healing agent is well documented. With a little more research we may find what specifically in the plant does the trick.

There is some argument as to which is the most healing part of the plant, the root or the leaf, and I am in the leaf camp. When ever you want to heal a section of skin the thing to do is to apply marshmallow leaf to it. If you have the plant growing in the garden you can grind up a leaf and apply the ground leaf to the wound. Or you can make a creme and apply the creme to the wound site and let it stay there for awhile. The easiest thing to do is to purchase or make marshmallow tincture and add a few drops to a creme, mix it in well, put a dab on the back of a bandaid and stick the bandaid in place. One teaspoon of creme to one teaspoon marshmallow tincture will do the trick.

Getting your herb:
1. Purchase the leaf, root, or the tincture of either at the health food store/herb seller.
2. Grow some yourself. Althea is an extremely attractive plant and it may be rough for you to pull it out of the garden and chop it into bits to make medicine once you have seen how lovely it is. If you want to try your hand at growing it you may want to plant a few so you dont feel so badly when slaughter day comes. Althea is a perenial plant and when you get your starter plant from a mail order nursery you will find it to be a little on the small side. It will take two seasons of growth before you have much to harvest. Plant it in some rich soil and sit back and wait. Despite the fact the plant is native to the marsh is neednt be grown there! It will happily live in a dry location. I prefer to use the leaves and therefore dont need to pull the whole plant out of the ground lock, stock , and barrel. You may want to think about doing the same. When it comes to harvesting the leaves this should be done as the plant comes into bloom. For the roots, you want to pluck them from the soil in october. The leaves can be dried in the sun and the roots in an oven set at the lowest temperature. The roots are rather thick and you are better to slice them as they will dry quicker.

Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.