The name marshmallow might conjure an image of fluffy white sweet treats; however marshmallow is actually the common name for the plant Althaea officinalis. In days gone by, marshmallow sweets were flavoured with the marshmallow herb, but this is no longer the case. Marshmallow has been used for centuries as both a medicine and a food. It has a long traditional use by the Arabs, Romans, Chinese, Egyptians and Syrians where it has been made into a liquid medicine, taken as a food or turned into a poultice for topical use on the skin.
Both the leaves and the root of the marshmallow plant have a high mucilage content that makes it an excellent demulcent (soother) and emollient (skin soother and softener). Marshmallow has been traditionally used in Western herbal medicine for coughs, minor respiratory complaints, inflammation of the digestive tract and topically for minor skin irritations and inflammation.
Coughs and colds
The root of marshmallow has demonstrated anti-tussive (cough suppressing) action and is considered very soothing for a dry, irritating cough due to its high mucilage content. It is used for mouth and throat irritations that can come with a cough and cold.
The mucilage content of marshmallow acts as an emollient that can soothe and soften irritated skin and may reduce the inflammation associated with minor skin complaints. It may also assist with healing minor wounds.
Digestion and gut health
Marshmallow root has been traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to relieve mild discomfort of the stomach and the gut. Due to its demulcent action it can help dampen inflammation occurring in the gut and the mucilage content can form a mucin-like layer on the gut lining to further help reduce the irritation to the area.
Marshmallow can be taken as a soothing tea for symptomatic relief. Alternatively, you can take marshmallow in capsules, tablets or in a tincture. Marshmallow ointments can be applied directly to soothe inflamed or irritated skin.
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- EMA. 2016. Marshmallow root. https://www.ema.europa.eu/documents/herbal-summary/marshmallow-root-summary-public_en.pdf. Viewed 4/10/18
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- Shah SM, Akhtar N. et al. 2011. Pharmacological activity of Althaea officinalis L. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol. 5(24), pp. 5662-5666, 30 October, 2011