The Wonders of Marshmallow
by Gillian Nye

(as published in The Lighthouse Peddler, December 2011)

One of the early herbal treats created by our pioneer mamas was a sweet and sticky mash of the wild root, Marsh Mallow ~ Althaea officinalis. The root of this fibrous, heavy mucilage plant was cooked with honey or sugar, formed into soft balls and given as a remedy for a sore throat. I've yet to find a more modern day marshmallow puff with the actual plant as one of it's ingredients, but it would be a nice addition! The entire plant is medicinal, from the roots to the fruits, making it a very useful herbal allie.

Marshmallow can be found in watery gardens and marshes, it likes especially salty swamps along the sea shore. The leaves of Marshmallow are greyish, softly hairy and toothed. The flowers are mauve, lightly veined with red. The hollyhock (alcea rosea) and common mallow (malva neglecta) have similar characteristics and constituents to Marshmallow and can be used interchangeably, although the roots of these plants are generally woodier than Marshmallow and are not as enjoyable as foods. I've experimented with growing Marshmallow in my garden, without success, but have a large amount of hollyhock and common mallow volunteering everywhere it can!

Marshmallow, the lovely Althaea, is most renowned in the world of herbal healing for it's supreme mucilaginous, nutritive, and anti-inflammatory qualities. Marshmallow is soothing for mucous membranes, specifically in the gastrointestinal, urinary and intestinal tracts. It is a great go-to for sore throats, dry coughs, upper respiratory infection, constipation, urinary tract infection or inflammation, and ulcers. When the mucous membranes of the mouth are sore, and food and drink is to painful to intake, Marshmallow will slide down with ease and cool the raw, inflamed throat. For folks with irritable bowels, pain and inflammation with digestion, Marshmallow will do the same ~ cool, soothe, and support! The herb also promotes urination, which will assist greatly in the cleansing and detoxification process.

Marshmallow is most often suggested to use as a tea, and can be made using the method of cold infusion with it's delicate leaves and flowers and as a decoction of the root. It is not necessary to tincture Marshmallow, in general, as it's roots can be easily dried for storage and it's sensitive medicine does well in a tea form, as opposed to tincture.

Juliette de Bairacli Levy, a renowned Gypsy herbalist, offers the dosage suggestion “Of a Standard Brew of the flowers and leaves, sweetened with honey, in a wineglass three times daily. Or, of three or four roots, sliced small and boiled gently for one hour in four cups of water, sweetened with honey, in a wineglass three times daily.”

Similar to Oatstraw, Marshmallow is also high in nutritive value, making it a good tonic for immune support within illness or in times of recuperation and rebuilding.

I've been drawn to to Marshmallow quite a bit lately, finding many of the health complaints that I hear of to be stemming from inflammation of an area. Marshmallow is fast acting and effective, with a very benign taste so it combines easily with other herbs and is found palatable by many.

A common ailment this time of year is intestinal distress, not only brought on by full enjoyment of holiday cheer but sometimes by the stress that accompanies the season. We are also, especially here on the coast, in greater risk of cough and cold with the changing weather and temperatures. Marshmallow is here for us in these times, helping to soothe and quiet the delicate mucous membranes of our systems, and reminding us that our bodies are sturdy but sensitive, and we need to nurture and care for them with diligence. To imagine parts of our insides to be swollen, red and inflamed is a bit of a scary picture, although the truth is that most dis-ease begins with these symptoms Marshmallow will calm this picture, offering a more peaceful image.

One may also reach for Marshmallow for external wounds and inflammation. The leaves can be steamed and used as a poultice for swelling, infections, or dry skin. The roots can be mashed and blended with water for a poultice for burns and wounds.

Marshmallow is safe for general use, although may delay the absorption of other herbs and drugs due to it's coating actions.

So go on and try Marshmallow if it calls out to you. It's a lovely soothing tonic, sure to be enjoyed by those who brew it up!