Marshmallow

Scientific Name/Common Name: Althaea officinalis / Marshmallow

Part(s) Used: Root

Constituents/Active Ingredients: 5-10% mucilage (levels vary greatly depending upon time of harvest and post-harvest processing). The mucilage is made up of a complex mixture of acidic polysaccharides containing arabinose, glucose, rhamnose, galactose, and galacturonic acid. The roots also contain pectin, sugars, asparagines, and small amounts of sterols.

Overview: The roots of marshmallow are rich in mucilage, a complex mixture of polysaccharides that form a soothing gelatinous fiber when water is added. Marshmallow root tea is considered an emollient, expectorant, and mild laxative. Marshmallow was traditionally used internally for soothing sore throats, laryngitis and tonsillitis, coughs, dryness of the lungs, and digestive upsets. The German Pharmacopoeia recommends marshmallow root tea for treating inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat and the associated dry cough. Studies on irritated mucus membranes have shown that the mucilage of marshmallow binds to buccal membranes and other mucous membranes of the body. Mucilage, a good source of soluble fiber, is particularly recommended for soothing gastrointestinal diseases. The viscous fiber has several beneficial effects on digestion: 1) it reduces bowel transit time (acts as a mild laxative); 2) it absorbs toxins from the bowel; 3) it increases fecal bulk and dilutes stool materials thereby reducing stool contact with the gastrointestinal mucosa; and 4) it enhances beneficial bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract and provides an excellent substrate for bacterial fermentation. Marshmallow is also used as a poultice for healing wounds and skin inflammations.

Traditional Use/Benefits/Body Systems: Traditionally used in Herbal Medicine (as a demulcent) to relieve the irritation of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa and associated dry cough and as a demulcent to relieve mild inflammation of the gastro-intestinal mucosa, e.g. gastritis, peptic and duodenal ulceration, enteritis.

Clinical Studies/Scientific Research/References:

Schmidgall J, Schnetz E, Hensel A. Evidence for bioadhesive effects of polysaccharides and polysaccharide-containing herbs in an ex vivo bioadhesion assay on buccal membranes. Planta Med 2000 Feb; 66(1): 48-53.

Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton (MA): Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.

Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester (VT): Healing Arts Press; 2003.

Disclaimer: This information in our Herbal Encyclopedia is intended only as a general reference for educational purposes. It is not a replacement for medical advice. This content does not provide dosage information, cautions/contraindications, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Please consult any relevant product labels for detailed information on use and with a medical practitioner for individual health advice.