Botanical Name: Althea officinalis
Family: Malvaceae (Mallow family)
Description: An upright perennial growing to 4 feet tall, has oval to heart-shaped, usually lobed and toothed velvety leaves. Lavender to pinkish-white flowers (July – October) are large, with five petals.
Habitat and Range: Found at the edges of salt and freshwater marshes. Introduced from Europe, Marshmallow now grows wild in scattered locations from Quebec to Virginia and west to Michigan and Arkansas.
Parts Used: Root and leaf.
Collection: The leaves should be collected in summer after flowering and the root is unearthed in late autumn. The leaves collected just before flowering is said to enhance the mucilaginous extraction. The root should be cleaned of root fibers and cork and dried immediately.
Historical Notes: Its botanical name comes from the Greek word altho, meaning “to heal”. Marshmallow has been used since Ancient Egyptian times. The fresh young tops are still eaten in France as a spring tonic, but it is used, nowadays generally, as a last resort, especially in times of famine. Some Middle Eastern peoples boil marshmallow and then fry it with onions and butter. A confection made from the herb was the inspiration for the candy called marshmallow, but the commercial product contains no trace of the plant.
Flower Essence: Headaches from cranial bone tension or when feeling light-headed, spacey or pressure in your head.
Constituents: Root: 25 – 35% mucilage; tannins; pectin; asparagine; polysaccharides. Leaf: Mucilage; flavonoids; coumarin; salicylic and other phenolic acids; traces of an essential oil. Flowers: mucilage; flavonoids.
Actions: Root: demulcent, diuretic, emollient, vulnerary. Leaf: demulcent, expectorant, diuretic, emollient.
Taste: (Root) salty, sweet, cool, mucilaginous
Tissue State: Atrophy and irritation dependent on lack of moisture.
Organ Affinities: Skin and mucosa, upper gastrointestinal tract, kidneys.
Applications and Indications: Root: digestive problems; skin. Leaf: lungs; urinary system. Externally, the root is indicated in varicose veins and ulcers, as well as abscesses and boils.
Preparations and Dosage: Decoction: a tsp. of chopped herb into a cup of water, boiling gently for 10 – 15 minutes. Drink 3X / day. Infusion: Leaf: pour boiling water over 1 – 2 tsp. of dried leaf and infuse for 10 minutes. Let cool. Michael Moore has said the root is best cold extracted in water. Drink 3X / day. A compress or poultice can be made out of this herb. Tincture: 1 – 4 ml, 3X / day.
Contraindications and Side Effects: If using tincture for digestive or urinary disorders, use the hot-water method to reduce the alcohol. Generally, a tincture is not used because this method of extraction will lack the mucilaginous properties found in the root or leaves.
Reader’s Digest. Magic and Medicine of Plants, Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1986
Ody, Penelope. The Complete Medicinal Herbal, New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 1993
Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal, Rockport, MA: Element Inc., 1992
Wood, Matthew. The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism, Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2004
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants, Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2008