Sweet Marshmallow Root: Althaea officinalis

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

Marshmallow root, as the name implies, was once included as an ingredient in the original sticky-sweet marshmallow candy. Alas, commercial marshmallows no longer contain this herb, but you can still make your own "real" ones at home! Check out the recipe below...

For centuries mallows have been used for food - both the leaves and the roots are edible. Marshmallow is closely related to other beloved plants such as cotton, hibiscus, and okra.

Beyond its food uses, marshmallow is a gentle medicinal plant. The nutritive and sweet root imparts a unique mucilaginous quality when extracted in water. Marshmallow has a high concentration of polysaccharides that impart a viscous and soothing quality to the liquid in which it is extracted.

This marshmallow mucilage has many benefits. Its anti-inflammatory and emollient properties are cooling and soothing to our internal tissues, with a special affinity for the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary tracts. This comes in handy for inflammatory conditions such as ulcers, heartburn, indigestion and Chrone's disease. Marshmallow root can also be used to address sore throats and dry coughs, and has been traditionally used for urinary issues such as cystitis and UTIs.

Photo credit: Todd Danforth

Photo credit: Todd Danforth

Photo credit: Todd Danforth

Photo credit: Todd Danforth

Externally, both the leaves and the roots of marshmallow are used on burns, wounds and all inflammatory skin disorders. It is extremely soothing for any sort of skin irritation. 

How to Use Marshmallow

Marshmallow root can be found finely cut up, or as a powder. Either form can be used. To get the most benefit out of the soothing, mucilaginous properties of the root be sure to extract it with cold or lukewarm water, since hot water will break down the beneficial polysaccharides.

Marshmallow Water

Add 2-3 Tblsp. powdered marshmallow root OR 1/4 cup cut marshmallow root to a quart-sized  glass jar. Pour cold water to the top of the jar, covering the root and blending well, or just cap the jar and shake vigorously. Allow this to sit at room temperature for at least an hour or two up to 8 hours. Pour through a fine sieve and drink. The final marshmallow water should be viscous, pale yellow colored, slightly sweet tasting, and soothing.

Marshmallow is the "herb of the year" at Herbstalk! Herbstalk creates educational community events that teach people about plants. We host classes on herbal and holistic health topics, offer urban plant walks, and bring together herbal crafters & artisans from across New England. Our next event takes place on June 6 & 7 at the Armory in Somerville. For more details and the full class schedule please visit: www.herbstalk.org

REFERENCES:

by Matthew Wood
by Rosalee de la Foret
by Maude Grieves

Steph Zabel is an herbalist and educator based in Somerville, MA who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world.  She teaches herbal classes, is available for individual wellness sessions, and is also the founder of HERBSTALK, a community herbal conference.  Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.


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