A beautiful plant with a long history of use, the medicinal benefits of marshmallow are almost endless. It has even been called a “cure-all” by herbalists of past centuries. With an affinity for the digestive system, lungs, and urinary tract, marshmallow fully deserves its reputation as a soothing, mildly relaxing, and versatile herb.
Botanical name: Althaea officinalis
demulcent, diuretic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory
genito-urinary system, lungs, digestive system
Medicinal Uses of Marshmallow
Marshmallow has been known for centuries as a soothing herb that effectively treats coughs, bronchitis, sore eyes, gonorrhea, mastitis, and many other issues including both constipation and diarrhea.
High in vitamins A and C, B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, marshmallow is an excellent boost to health. In times of sickness, its abundance of nutrients strengthens the immune system to fight off almost any infection.
Marshmallow root contains a large amount of mucilage, a substance that becomes gelatinous when exposed to liquid. Mucilage coats, lubricates, and soothes all bodily tissues that it encounters.
Imagine having some irritated tissue on or in your body – it’s dry, rough, chapped, maybe even burning and painful. Now imagine spreading onto it a smooth gel that moistens, relieves pain, lubricates, and heals. That’s what marshmallow’s mucilage does throughout the body.
Marshmallow for Lung Complaints
Treatment for all manner of lung complaints may be the best known traditional use of marshmallow root. For centuries, it has been used to ease discomfort and speed healing from:
- common cold
- sore throat
It is both antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, making it especially helpful in soothing the inflamed mucus membranes that typically accompany these illnesses. Marshmallow also helps to clear congestion in the chest and sinuses by loosening phlegm and expelling excess mucus.
For best results in dealing with any lung complaints, combine marshmallow with other expectorant and demulcent herbs.
Uses of Marshmallow for the Urinary Tract
I first got introduced to the medicinal benefits of marshmallow while researching how to help one of my sons with a urinary tract infection. Its demulcent action means that marshmallow is very soothing to the tissues. It also relieves inflammation, thus easing discomfort and helping the body to heal from the infection.
As a diuretic, marshmallow helps flush the bacteria from the urinary tract – this is also why cranberry juice is helpful during a UTI. Read Herbs for Urinary Tract Infections for more information.
Marshmallow has also been traditionally used to ease the passage of kidney stones.
Benefits of Marshmallow for Women
The marshmallow plant contains a substance called betaine, which is both a phytoestrogen and emmenagogue (meaning that it increases menstrual flow). For women experiencing amenorrhea, Dr. James Duke, author of The Green Pharmacy, suggests drinking a tea made from both marshmallow root and yarrow leaves.
Marshmallow is very useful during lactation as well – whether or not Mom & Baby have experienced any breastfeeding difficulties. It can enrich the milk produced and increase the flow, especially when combined with blessed thistle.
If a lactating mother develops mastitis, a warm marshmallow fomentation will soothe the area, relieve discomfort, and speed healing. Add chamomile and poppy flowers to the infusion for even better results.
Marshmallow for Digestive Complaints
Marshmallow has the dual benefit of helping both constipation and diarrhea. It’s very fibrous, thus adding bulk to stool, and its mucilaginous properties add a “gel-like” substance to the stool to make it easier to pass.
For diarrhea, Dr. Christopher recommends boiling marshmallow root in soy milk and then drinking it freely. Because of the problems with soy milk – read Soy Alert! and Can Soy Damage Your Health? – I’d suggest using almond milk or coconut milk instead.
Sipping warm marshmallow tea may also help ease indigestion, heart burn, and other stomach upsets.
Benefits of Marshmallow for Children
Interestingly, this herb was the original source for those sweet marshmallows now found roasting over campfires and floating in hot chocolate. They were first made for children who had sore throats – the sweetness would induce the children to eat, and the herbal goodness would soothe the sore throat.
Commercial marshmallows certainly don’t contain any herbal goodness these days, but here is a recipe for old-fashioned marshmallows using marshmallow powder. (They look really good, and I think I need to make them asap!)
Marshmallow also offers a gentle way to strengthen the immune system of sick or weak children. For this purpose, herbalist James Green suggests combining marshmallow with catnip, chamomile, fennel, and lemon balm to make a glycerin tincture.
Probably because of its history as an effective medicinal herb, marshmallow is now quite rare in the wild. Though it isn’t considered “at risk,” you may find it hard to locate.
Thankfully, a more common herb called blue, common, high, or tall mallow – or more correctly, Malva sylvestris – is very similar to true marshmallow. Malva contains almost the same nutritional components and medicinal benefits, though it doesn’t contain quite as much mucilage.
Instead of using the root of malva, herbalists use the leaves and flowers. Freshly picked and boiled leaves can be applied directly to the body to speed the healing of cuts, wounds, bruises, and sprains. Malva leaf tea can be used in place of marshmallow root tea in almost every circumstance.
The root of the marshmallow plant has the greatest potency and is most often used in its powdered form for any medicinal purpose. If you’re using common mallow (malva) instead, choose the leaves and not the root.
To ease the burning discomfort of a urinary tract infection, a cold-water marshmallow infusion may be best. Steep 4 teaspoons of marshmallow in one quart of cold water overnight. Drink freely throughout the next day.
Hot marshmallow tea seems to work better for coughs and sore throats. Use 2 teaspoons of marshmallow per cup of boiling water and steep for 10-15 minutes.
The same tea infusion – unsweetened! – relieves sore or inflamed eyes. Allow the infusion to cool to a comfortable temperature and then bathe the eyes frequently.
A marshmallow poultice will aid the healing of many surface issues:
- swollen joints
Marshmallow Tincture & Capsules
When an infusion or poultice aren’t feasible, marshmallow can be taken as a tincture or capsules. For a commercial product, follow the label directions.
Otherwise, the standard dosage is ½ – 1 teaspoon of tincture daily or 2 #00 capsules 2-3 times per day.
Have you used marshmallow before or do you plan to try it?
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Balch, Phyllis A., CNC and James F. Balch, M.D. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Avery, 2000.
Bruton-Seal, Julie and Matthew Seal. Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies. Skyhorse Publishing, 2009.
Christopher, John R., Dr. School of Natural Healing. Christopher Publications, Inc., 2014.
Duke, James A., Ph.D. The Green Pharmacy. Rodale Press Inc., 1997.
Green, James. The Male Herbal. Crossing Press, 2007.
Ritchason, Jack, N.D. The Little Herb Encyclopedia: The Handbook of Nature’s Remesies for a Healthier Life. Woodland Health Books, 1995.
Ross, Jeremy. A Clinical Materia Medica: 120 Herbs in Western Use. Greenfields Press, 2010.
This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is intended only for educational purposes. It is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure disease. Always consult a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your healthcare routine.
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