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Marshmallow is a frequently lauded and recommended herb for the relief of peptic ulcers, colitis and urinary tract infection.
Other names: Moorish Mallow, Cheeses, White Maoow, Althea, Mortification Root, Sweet Weed, Wymote, Mallards, Schloss Tea
Marshmallow is the root or leaf of a member of the mallow family that grows in wet soils in much of Europe from England, Denmark, and central Russia south to the Mediterranean region. The common Mallow is frequently called by country people, ‘Marsh Mallow,’ but the true Marsh Mallow is distinguished from all the other Mallows growing in Britain.
In North America, Marshmallow grows in salt marshes from Massachusetts to Virginia and in the mountains of the western United States.
Marshmallow – the herb, not the white puffy confection roasted over a campfire – has been used for more than 2,000 years as both a food and a medicine.
The generic name, Althaea, is derived from the Greek, altho (to cure), from its healing properties.
Marshmallow as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
The medicinal parts are the mallow flowers, leaves, syrup and roots.
Traditionally, Marshmallow root has been poulticed on bruises, muscle aches, sprains, burns, and inflammations.
A tea of the leaves has been used to soothe sore throat and as an expectorant in bronchitis and whooping cough. Like many members of the mallow family, its tea is considered soothing to an upset stomach. Both the fresh and dried leaves have been used for similar conditions as the root but are considered somewhat weaker.
The leaves and root both contain mucilagin, the substance that makes the tea “slimy”, considered the main active ingredient.
Marshmallow preparations are recognized for their ability to soothe and soften irritated tissue, particularly mucous membranes, and to loosen a cough. Marshmallow also mildly stimulates the immune system.
In folk medicine, marshmallow is employed for catarrh of the mouth, throat, gastrointestinal tract and urinary tract, as well as for inflammation, ulcers, abscesses, burns, constipation and diarrhea.
Preparations of Marsh Mallow are still much used for inflammation, outwardly and inwardly, and are used for lozenge-making. German health authorities allow use of the marshmallow leaf and root preparations to relieve local irritation and soothe irritated mucous membranes in sore throat accompanied by dry cough.
Preparations of the root are also used to relieve local irritations, stimulate the immune system, slow down lung congestion in sore throat with dry cough, and relieve mild inflammation of the mucous membranes of the digestive tract.
A decoction can be made by adding 5 pints of water to 1/4 pound of dried root, boiling down to 3 pints and straining: it should not be made too thick. This liquid, or syrup, form is often called “snail juice”.
To prepare a tea, use 10 to 15 g with 150 ml of cold water and allow to stand for 90 minutes, then warm to drink.
The average daily dose is 6 gm of the root and 5 gm of the leaf. The tea dosage is several cups of the slightly warmed tea taken during the course of the day.
Arab physicians in early times used the leaves as a poultice to suppress inflammation.
Culinary Uses of Marshmallow
Most of the Mallows have been used as food, and are mentioned by early classic writers. Mallow was an esculent vegetable among the Romans, a dish of Marsh Mallow was one of their delicacies.
The Chinese use some sort of Mallow in their food, and Prosper Alpinus stated (in 1592) that a plant of the Mallow kind was eaten by the Egyptians. Many of the poorer inhabitants of Syria, especially the Fellahs, Greeks and Armenians, subsist for weeks on herbs, of which Marsh Mallow is one of the most common.
When boiled first and fried with onions and butter, the roots are said to form a palatable dish.
In France, the young tops and tender leaves of Marsh Mallow are eaten uncooked, in spring salads, for stimulation of the kidneys. A syrup made from the roots is used for the same purpose.
The leaves are often used in soups.
Marsh Mallow Water
Soak one ounce of marsh mallow roots in a little cold water for half an hour; peel off the bark, or skin; cut up the roots into small shavings, and put them into a jug to stand for a couple of hours; the decoction must be drunk tepid, and may be sweetened with honey or sugar-candy, and flavored with orange-flower water, or with orange juice. Marshmallow water may be used with good effect in all cases of inveterate coughs, catarrhs, etc. (Francatelli’s Cook’s Guide.)
Marshmallow Cough Syrup
The orange juice helps to keep the syrup from crystallizing. For a tangier syrup, substitute the juice of 1 lemon for the orange juice.
- 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons chopped dried marshmallow root
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup orange juice
In a small saucepan, stir the marshmallow root into the water;bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 20 minutes. Strain the decoction into another saucepan (you should have about 1 cup). Over low heat, slowly stir in the sugar, so that a thick syrup forms. Simmer another 5 minutes, making sure the grains dissolve completely. If the mixture gets too thick, stir in a little more water. Let cool slightly, then gradually add the orange juice and mix. Transfer to a container with a lid, cover when cool. Yield: About 3 cups.
Wild Cherry Variation: decoct 1 teaspoon wild cherry bark with the marshmallow root, omit the orange juice and add a scant ½ teaspoon cream of tartar to the sugar.
Use a mallow ointment to protect against evil and cast out demons. Place a bouquet of mallow in a vase in your window to attract a straying lover.
Marshmallow is generally considered to be safe. It has no reported side effects. It appears to be safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, although you should check with your doctor before taking it. One study suggests marshmallow may lower blood sugar levels, so people with diabetes should talk to their doctor before taking marshmallow. In Germany marshmallow syrups (which are high in sugar) must be labeled as to sugar content.
The mucilagin in marshmallow may reduce the action of drugs taken at the same time. Side effects are not reported for marshmallow.
Very few scientific studies have looked at the effects of marshmallow in humans. Most of its suggested uses come from a long history of use in traditional healing systems.
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