Althea officinalis Mallow family
c.2018 Greg Tilford
Appearance: A stout plant which may grow as high as seven feet, marshmallow has alternate, three to five-lobed leaves, and showy 2-3 inch flowers that range in color from white to pale pink . The entire plant is covered with fine, soft hairs— a trait that gives the foliage a dusty appearance.
Habitat & Range: A native of West and Central Europe, marshmallow has become naturalized in the United States, where it grows in marshes and moist meadows throughout the New England states. It has become a popular garden herb throughout the world, and is very easy to grow.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms from late June through September.
Parts Used: Primarily the root. The foliage is useful too, but does not make as good a medicine.
Actions: Demulcent, emollient, antimicrobial, hypoglycemic, immunostimulant.
Affinities: Respiratory, digestive, urinary tract, skin.
Preparation: Tea, low-alcohol tincture, fresh or dried chopped root.
Specific Uses: Marshmallow has a very long history as a medicine. The word“Althea” is derived from the ancient Greek word “altheo”, meaning “to cure”. With very few exceptions, marshmallow is among the safest and most versatile herbs for animals. The root of the mature plant contains up to 35% mucilage; a gooey, slippery substance that has a consistency similar to gear oil. This makes marshmallow useful in situations that involve surface irritation of the skin or internal mucous membranes. It is particularly useful for urinary tract inflammations which are compounded by the presence of gravel in the urine (urinary calculus), and in digestive disorders where ulceration or infection is further aggravated by the presence of food or other solids. In these cases marshmallow provides a soothing, lubricating, protective barrier between mucous membranes and substances which contribute to the irritation. Marshmallow is also useful for soothing upper respiratory irritations that are secondary to a dry, raspy cough. On the surface of the body, marshmallow brings soothing relief to insect bites, stings, abscesses, and inflammations that are secondary to injury or infection. In addition to the soothing nature of mucilage, marshmallow has antimicrobial and immune-stimulating properties. In animal studies (which the authors don’t condone), it has been shown to be active against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, and Staphylococcus aureus1— bacterial infections which are commonly seen in the digestive tract, urinary tract, skin, and ears of dogs, cats, horses, ferrets, and other animals. A dab of marshmallow tincture also serves as an excellent antimicrobial lubricant for a rectal thermometer.