Marshmallow (Althea officinalis, spp)
By Greg McCrone, R.Ph and Herbalist
Marshmallow tea may be one of the most recommended herbal teas at the Herbal Path, and for good reason. It is an exceptional remedy for almost all manners of irritation or inflammation inside or outside the body.
Marshmallow is a member of the Malvaceae family. The word malva is derived from the Greek word malakos, meaning soft or soothing. It is indeed one of the most soothing of all plants due to its high content of mucilaginous "sugars." Althaea, its Latin name, also comes from a Greek word althane, meaning "to heal."
Abraham Cowley (1618-1667), referring to marshmallow's close cousin hollyhock, wrote:
Proud she appears, but try her and you'll find
No plant more mild or friendly in mankind
She gently all obstructions do's unbind
One only needs to caress the soft, fuzzy leaves of a mallow plant to get a good idea of just how friendly this plant is. The leaves were applied to bee stings, insect bites, scalds and burns, and are very soothing to sunburns and inflammatory skin ailments. A mallow tea makes a great gargle for sore throats and mouth and gum sores. Infants were given marshmallow root to chew on to ease teething pain.
Marshmallow root owes its great healing powers to an abundance of "sugary" starches. Decoctions (simmering the root, as in a tea) and hot or cold infusions will extract a viscous, gummy mucilage that resembles the protective layers of the mucus membranes in our sinuses, lungs, bladder, and especially in our intestinal tract.
Marshmallow soothes dry irritating coughs and sore throats, has mild expectorating actions and enhances immune function. Its actions on the urinary tract make it a good choice in formulas to aid cystitis, irritable bladder and passage of "gravel" or bladder stones. Herbalists say it strengthens the bladder and is mildly diuretic. However, its action on the digestive tract is where I believe marshmallow has its greatest value in our community.
You need not have any digestive issues to appreciate a cup of warm marshmallow tea. Whether mixed with licorice, slippery elm, calendula and a friendly mint from our bulk herb section, or a tea bag from a box of marshmallow tea, many customers have left our store with this herbal friend. In my opinion no pharmaceutical can match its healing properties, from esophageal reflux to colitis or almost any digestive issue and inflammation.
Is it any wonder that, two millennia ago, Pliny the Elder wrote "whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him"?