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Marshmallow soothes all exposed surfaces and mucous membranes

Marshmallow

Althaea officinalis Malvaceae

Marshmallow applies its mucilaginous properties to calm any inflamed, irritated, raw, sore, damaged and infected surface it can reach.

  • How does it feel?

    If you can find some marshmallow root or powder chew on a little of it. There is a faint aroma, and slightly sweet taste and then the slimy mucilaginous properties dominate.

  • What can I use it for?

    Relieving dry cough and upset and irritable digestion are the dominant roles of marshmallow. As its primary mucilage ingredient is sensitive both to heat and alcohol it is best taken as a powder or extracted in cold or warm water.

    You can expect almost immediate relief as the effect is almost entirely from the physical properties of the mucilage on the mucosal lining of the upper digestive system. The effect on the airways is likely to be due to consequent reflex action on the airway structures.

  • Into the heart of Marshmallow

    Marshmallow contains 11% mucilage which acts as its primary medicinal constituent. Mucilage will trap liquid to form gel like substances and will also swell to many times its original volume. Mucilage forms a protective layer over damaged mucosal membranes, allowing time for cellular regeneration and healing to occur but also protects membranes from further deterioration, for example, damage from gastric acid exposure.

    Longer term use of mucilage also allows time for damaged cells to heal.

    Externally, the marshmallow mucilage can draw fluid and toxicity from wounds and infections. In small dosages, mucilaginous compounds restrain the peristaltic action within the gut and work well to promote an antidiarrheal action. In larger dosages, they can promote a gentle laxative effect.

  • Traditional uses

    Marshmallow root was one of the classic ‘demulcent’ or ‘emollient’ remedies in European tradition. One of a number of earliest mucilaginous wound remedies, applied internally to inflammations of the upper digestive system and to dry cough. Its leading role among these remedies was usurped with the discovery of slippery elm bark and aloe juice from the Americas.

    Marshmallow was eaten as a delicacy by the Romans and Egyptians and has been used as a food at various times in history when other crops were scarce.

  • What practitioners say

    Digestive tract: used in all hot, inflamed, irritated and dry conditions of the digestive mucosa such as hyperacidity, reflux oesophagitis, hiatus hernia, and to relieve gastritis and peptic ulcers.

    Respiratory: for irritated and dry conditions of the airways with unproductive and tickly coughs. Marshmallow can help provide long-term relief in lung infections by allowing time for the inflamed and infected mucosa to heal.

    Urinary: may help relieve urinary inflammations such as cystitis, urethritis, urinary stones and nephritis.

    Skin: applied to inflamed, irritated and dry conditions of the skin such as wounds, burns, scar tissue, ulcers, lumps and swellings. Marshmallow can be applied externally to the skin to provide symptomatic relief and as a drawing agent.

  • Research

    A review of the research literature concluded that in combination with other plant extracts marshmallow could be a good choice for cough, sore throat, and other respiratory ailments.

    Marshmallow was shown to have a minor effect in reducing dry mouth syndrome in a controlled clinical trial. One review found that using an ointment containing 20 percent marshmallow root extract reduced skin irritation.

    A poultice with Althaea officinalis was found to reduce breast engorgement in lactating women in a clinical trial.

  • Did you know?

    A confection made from the root since antiquity evolved into the modern ‘marshmallow’ candy, but these no longer contain any marshmallow root.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Marshmallow root is very safe

  • Dosage

    6–15 g/day of dried leaf or root (if extracted this is best by infusing in water: the mucilage can withstand temperatures only up to 60oC)

  • Constituents

    • Mucilage polysaccharides (5 – 11%: more in winter)
    • Flavonoids
    • Phenols
    • Coumarin (scopoletin)
    • Starch
    • Pectin
    • Tannins

    In addition to their physical properties constituents of the mucilage may interact with a key mucosal enzyme, hyaluronidase.

  • Traditional energetics

    • Rasa (taste) Sweet.
    • Virya (action) Cooling.
    • Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Sweet, salty, mildly bitter.
    • Guna (quality) Oily, sticky, heavy.
    • Dosha effect: balances all three dosha.
    • Dhatu (tissue) Rasa/plasma, rakta/ blood, mamsa/muscle, majja/nerve, shukra/reproductive.
    • Srotas (channels) Prana/respiratory, mutra/urinary, anna/digestive, majja/ nervous, stanya/lactation.
marshmallow illustration
  • Recipe

    Good move tea

    There are only a few ways to move toxins out of the body – so if you’re keen to cleanse, it’s essential to make sure your bowels are working properly. Our ‘Good move’ tea is one of the strongest of the lot, so proceed with caution. It will help you have a relaxed and cleansing bowel motion every day.

    Ingredients:

    • Yellow dock root 4g
    • Dandelion root 3g
    • Marshmallow root 2g
    • Senna leaf 2g
    • Orange peel 2g
    • Fennel seed 1g
    • Licorice root 1g

    This will serve 2–3 cups of bowel moving tea.

    Method:

    • Put all of the ingredients in a pot. Add 500ml (18fl oz) freshly boiled filtered water.
    • Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain.
    • Just have 1 cup a day or you will find yourself trotting off to the loo too frequently. Don’t use it for more than two weeks in a row as senna can cause some dependency. Make sure you keep properly re-hydrated throughout the day.

    Recipe from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole

Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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