Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) is an herb native to Europe and Asia. Also called althea root, it is a perennial plant that grows in wet, marshy areas. Because the flowers of the marshmallow are quite attractive, closely resembling a hibiscus, gardeners have naturalized the plant in gardens throughout the world. Marshmallow has many medicinal properties. From ancient Greece and Egypt to modern day ayurvedic medicine, marshmallow has proven effective in treating a variety of respiratory and digestive conditions. The marshmallow’s roots, leaves, and flowers are all used in different treatments.
Cough, Sore throat, and Laryngitis
One of marshmallow’s primary medicinal qualities stems from the marshmallow root’s production of mucilage, a thick, glue-like substance naturally secreted by some plants. Mucilage is useful in part because it has a coating effect, much like the body’s natural mucus. By working to cover and soothe irritated mucous membranes in the mouth and throat, mucilage reduces the body’s tendency to produce its own mucus. Marshmallow root works well for dry coughs and to soothe sore throats and irritated vocal chords. It is not usually recommended for wet, productive coughs and to help relieve congestion.
Marshmallow is also known to stimulate the immune system. Marshmallow has properties that stimulate phagocytosis, which is a process of the immune system wherein cells called macrophages attack and ingest various infectious microorganisms such as bacteria, protozoa, and tumor cells. With its ability to soothe uncomfortable symptoms and treat the root cause of the illness, marshmallow root is a powerful treatment against a number of respiratory problems.
Acid Indigestion, IBS, Crohn’s Disease and Peptic Ulcer
Stomach and digestive conditions such as acid indigestion, gastritis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are often helped by treatment with a tea made by steeping marshmallow root in cold water. Marshmallow has properties that lower the levels of stomach acids. In addition, the herb contains polysaccharides, complex carbohydrates that coat the stomach lining for protection. By growing as much as fifteen times their original size when coming into contact with stomach fluids, these polysaccharides create a protective layer that helps keep the lining of the stomach and intestines safe. These same properties make marshmallow an effective treatment for peptic ulcer and crohn’s disease.
Urinary Tract Problems
Marshmallow has been used for the treatment of urinary tract problems such as mild cystitis. Use of the leaves of the marshmallow plant rather than the roots is usually preferred for urinary tract issues.
Skin Conditions (eczema, psoriasis, mastitis)
Both the flower and root of the marshmallow can be used in treatments to soothe skin conditions. Marshmallow has emollient properties that soften and soothe the skin. The herb helps restrict the production of hormones that cause inflammation in irritated skin, while marshmallow’s mucilage provides a coating that can protect open wounds and damaged skin. When used to help the skin, marshmallow extract is generally applied externally as a cream.
Researchers in Japan have found that the mucilage present in marshmallow has the ability to bring down sugar level and this was based on animal testing. Although marshmallow is generally considered safe and beneficial, there is a lack of convincing studies on its effects.