Plant Profile: Marshmallow
Florida School of Holistic Living Plant of the Month for October 2022.
Contributor: Maggie Smartt, Current Community Herbalist Program Student.
Latin Name: Althaea officinalis
Common Names: Marshmallow, Sweet Weed
Family: Malvaceae (Mallow family)
Habitat and Botanical Information: Native to Europe, it has also been naturalized in the Americas. As per its name, it grows in marshy habitats, the edges of wetlands, and disturbed areas. It is a perennial that grows 2-4 feet high and has several wooly stems. The leaves are usually 1-3 inches long and serrate; the flowers are purple in color and 1-2 inches in diameter.
Parts Used: Root, leaves, flowers
Uses: Roots and leaves can be used in any infusion including long infusions (steep the roots or leaves for over 4 hours).
The roots can be used in a decoction by adding 5 pints of water to 1/4 lb or dried root, boiling down to 3 pints, and straining. Don’t make it too thick. The decoction can be ingested and also used as a topical remedy for bruises, sprains, and muscle aches.
Marshmallow powder added to water can be ingested to soothe an irritated stomach.
History/ tradition: Historically, marshmallow has been used in a syrup and tea to treat upper respiratory irritation, cough, and sore throat.
According to the Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine:
“The philosopher Theophrastus (c. 372-286 BCE) reported that marshmallow root was taken a sweet wine for coughs. Marshmallow was once a key ingredient in the sweets of the same name.“
And indeed, according to the “History of the Marshmallow” on campfiremarshmallows.com, the Ancient Egyptians used the sap of the plant combined with a honey-based candy recipe “to create a confection so delightful that it’s reserved only for the pharaohs and the gods.”
Energetics: Cooling, moistening, sweet, bitter
Systems: Respiratory, digestive
Actions: Demulcent (soothing action on inflammation, especially of the mucous membranes); Emollient (softens and soothes the skin)
A note from Maggie Smartt: My personal selling points for marshmallow in my job at Leaves & Roots are usually that it is soothing to all of the internal mucosal lining from mouth to anus. This is especially helpful for inflammation of the stomach/ bowels or ulcers in the stomach. It is a go-to herb for a sore throat and a dry cough. My best method of preparation is a hot infusion left to steep for 4+ hours in order to extract a great amount of mucilage (ie. it gets goopy!). I have also used the root infused in oil in things like lotion for an added soothing to the skin effect. I have read that due to its soothing demulcent effects it is also considered emollient and skin healing. While personally I gravitate toward using the root for everything, it was taught to me that the root is better for digestive issues (when in need of soothing) or for respiratory when dry and the leaf is better for respiratory ailments when wet (has an expectorant effect while retaining some soothing effect). The leaf is also good for smoking.
Cautions: Generally regarded as safe. However, we always recommend that you check for contraindications with any pharmaceuticals before introducing a new herbal remedy. Publix Pharmacy has an excellent searchable database here. You can search by medication name or herb to find information on possible interactions.
Constituents: Mucilage, pectin, oil, glutinous matter, cellulose, starch, sugar, and asparagin
Disclaimer: This content is intended for educational purposes only. Please consult your healthcare provider before making changes based on the material.
Check out Maggie O’Halloran’s video plant profile on Marshmallow for more about this plant ally and its many uses.
Campfire Marshmallows. History of the Marshmallow. https://www.campfiremarshmallows.com/history-of-marshmallows/
Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments. Third Edition. (DK Penguin Random House: 2016) p. 165. https://bookshop.org/a/11829/9781465449818
European Medicines Agency, Science Medicines Health. Assessment report on Althaea officinalis L., radix. https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/herbal-report/final-assessment-report-althaea-officinalis-l-radix_en.pdf
Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal: Volume II L-Z. (Dover Publications: NYC, 1971) p. 507-508. https://bookshop.org/a/11829/9780486227993
Meyer, Joseph E. The Herbalist. (Meyerbooks, Glenwood, IL: 1960) p. 6.
Native Plant Trust. Althaea officinalis: Common Marsh-mallow. https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/althaea/officinalis/
Ruff, Emily & O’Halloran Maggie. Roots of Herbalism Workbook.