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.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of marshmallow’s key qualities below to learn more:
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.
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.
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.
Marshmallow root is very safe
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
- 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.
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.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
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)
- mucilage polysaccharides (5 – 11%: more in winter)
- coumarin (scopoletin)
In addition to their physical properties constituents of the mucilage may interact with a key mucosal enzyme, hyaluronidase.