Marshmallow-Althaea Officinalis, Malva Rotundifolia, Malva Sylvestris, Malva Neglecta
Also known as: Althaea, sweet weed, wymote, mortification root, mallards, schloss tea, malva, mallow, cheese weed, button weed
Parts used: Root, leaves, flowers, peas
Meridians/Organs affected: respiratory, digestive, urinary
Properties: diuretic, demulcent, mucilaginous, emollient, tonic, vulnerary, alterative, lithotriptic, mild laxative
Marshmallow is a native of Europe and as with many herbs before it, it has made its way here to the usa. This plant has soft, toothed, downy leaves that can resemble a maple leaf depending on the variety. The flowers are pink or white with pink streaks through them and have 5 petals. It can get anywhere between 2-4 feet tall. It grows in damp meadows, marshes, by the ocean or rivers, ditches and basically anywhere the is considered moist. It blooms from July to September. The leaves are best gathered before the plant blooms however. The root is best gathered in the fall. Marshmallow is typically an annual but it can over winter and become a perennial in the proper climate.'
Marshmallow is well known across the globe by many cultures. It is mentioned in Chinese and Arab medicinal texts and in the Bible (in the book of Job where it is partaken of in times of famine). Theophrastus (370-287 BC) talks of mallow root being soaked in wine and used for coughs. The Romans and Chinese would eat it as a delicacy. It does contain a high mucilage content which helps to loosen phlegm and expel it from the respiratory system. It is also very beneficial for gastrointestinal issues for the same reason. As it is mucilaginous it soothes the body and has been used for diarrhea, dysentery, ulcers, whooping cough, sore throats, etc. Externally it works much the same way to soothe and heal wounds, bruises, burns and infections.
In fact, other members of this family can be substituted for mallow as they have similar qualities (hibiscus and hollyhocks being examples). The Greek 'athos' means 'to cure' and it had quite a reputation as a cure all. King Charlemagne (742-814 AD) demanded that it be grown throughout his kingdom. It is rumored he suffered from ulcers and found it to be a wonderful remedy. Culpeper's son was diagnosed with what was termed a 'plague of the guts' and suffered something terrible. Culpeper gave mallow to his son (boiled it and served it with milk) and two days later his son was cured. It was used for many different ailments and seemed to work well for a host of diseases. It was used for diabetes, tuberculosis, septicemia, gangrene, vomiting, blood in the stool, nose or urine, kidney and gall stones, inflammations, stomach disorders, bedsores, etc. There are many documentations of it being used as a poultice for blood poisoning, burns, bruises, gangrene, sores, wounds, etc. (The root or leaves were lightly steamed and then applied warm and changed three times a day). The root was also commonly used in combination with parsley root, juniper berries or gravel root to assist with the pain and expellation of stones. Since it does contain a decent amount of calcium and magnesium it has also been found useful for arthritis. It seems to have the ability to bind to toxins in the body and eliminate them. The root was also used to increase the milk production in nursing mother's. While most people know nothing about this plant they are familiar however with the term 'marshmallow' in general. The white fluffy confection....and although the original marshmallow was made using this plant, it has not been done so for hundreds of years. The roots were boiled in water and then beaten like egg whites into a froth and used in pies, desserts, etc.
Dr. Christopher used marshmallow in a great many formulas for things, including the well known 'black salve'. He speaks of a man who had an infection in his leg that turned gangrenous. The man went to the doctor who recommended amputation. The man refused and instead went to Dr. Christopher who made a large decoction of marshmallow root for the man to immerse his entire leg in. In a matter of hours the leg had returned to normal. There are several stories like this one where marshmallow is concerned with miraculous results. Clearly it is an herb that should be kept in the garden for medicinal and nutritional benefits.