A genus of about 12 species of annuals and perennials, closely rembling the genus Malva, (see common mallow), that occurs throughout W Europe to C Asia and N Africa. It once included hollyhock (formerly Althaea rosea, now Alcea rosea, see hollyhock). The name Althaea comes from the Greek altha, "to cure", referring to the healing properties of these plants. A few species are grown and border plants; A officinalis is useful for water-logged ground. The healing properties of A. officinalis were first recorded in the ninth century BCE, and were widely used in Greek medicine. They are concentrated in the roots. The powdered roots were once used to make soft lozenges (pâté de guimauve) for throat infections and coughs - forerunners of the popular confectionery "marshmallow", which no longer contains extracts of the herb. Malva sylvestris (see common mallow) and M. neglecta have similar properties, but are considered less effective.

The names are the same, but this herb is not related to the soft sugary thing roasted over campfires. This herb marshmallow, which is grown near salt marshes, contains a gummy substance called mucilage that can relieve inflamed tissues and soothe coughs. Studies suggest that the pectin in marshmallow can help control blood sugar and combat constipation, while other ingredients may stimulate immune cells to fight off invaders.

Upright perennial with a fleshy tap root, downy stems, and velvety, round to ovate leaves, 3-8cm (1¼-3in) across. Pale pink flowers, 2-4cm (¾-1½in) across, appear in the axils in summer.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Althea, Hock Herb, Mallards, Moorish Mallow, Mortification Root, Sweet Weed, Wymote.
Botanical Name:
Althaea officinalis
Native Location:
Europe, C Russia, W Asia, and N Africa, widely naturalized in N America
Moist to wet soil in sun. Althaea officinalis prefers damp conditions but thrives alongside other plants in the border.
By seed sown when ripe in late summer; by division in autumn. Germination is erratic.
Leaves are dried infusions, ointments, and liquid extracts. Roots are dried for liquid extracts, ointments and syrups.
Has white flowers
1-1.2m (3-4ft)
60-90cm (24-36in)
The puffy white confections most of us think of today when we hear the word "marshmallow" have little but sugar in common with the marshmallow plant, one of the oldest and most treasured healing herbs and wild-growing vegetables. Its use dates back 3,000 years, and almost every ancient civilization—including the Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Syrians—used marshmallow root to heal an assortment of ailments: from burns, constipation, and kidney stones to insect bites, sore throats, and toothaches. And when food was scarce, the leaves and flowers of teh wild-growing marshmallow were eaten raw or cooked. A member of the Malvaceae family, marshmallow contains large quantities of soothing mucilage, and in fact the family name is from the Greek malake, for "soft". Marshmallow's botanical name is also from the Greek and is derived from altho, meaning "to heal". The ancient Romans brought marshmallow to the rest of Europe where it enjoyed a singular popularity. The ninth-century emperor Charlemagne so valued the plant that he ordered its cultivation throughout the empire, and by the fourteenth century, marshmallow was widely used to treat colds, flu, gonorrhea, kidney ailments, sore throats, and upset stomach. A few hundred years later, the French made the original "marshmallow" (called pâté de guimauve), a soft medicinal lozenge made from the plant's root and used for coughs and sore throats.
Parts Used:
Leaves, roots, flowers
A sweet, mucilaginous herb that soothes and softens tissues, has expectorant effects, and controls bacterial infection.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for inflammation and ulceration of the digestive tract, hiatus hernia, bronchitis, excess mucus, asthma, whooping cough, and cystitis (roots); and for urinary tract infections, excess mucus, bronchitis, irritating coughs, and cystitis (leaves). Externally for boils, abscesses, eye and skin inflammations, insect bites, gingivitis, mastitis, and gangrene. Often combined with Symphytum officinale (see comfrey) for digestive complaints; with Glycyrrhiza glabra (See licorice), Marrubium vulgare (See horehound) or Lobelia inflata (See indian tobacco) for bronchial complaints; and with Ulmus rubra (See elm) for external use. Peeled root is given to children to chew as a traditional aid to teething.
Marshmallow leaf and marshmallow root are used to treat cough, bronchitis, diarrhea, ulcers, and insect bites. Germany's Commission E has approved the use of marshmallow leaf to treat cough and bronchitis and marshmallow root to treat irritation of the mouth and throat and inflammation of the gastric mucosa.
Marshmallow is a demulcent and diuretic with especially soothing and healing effects on inflamed mucous membranes of the intestines, mouth, respiratory tract, stomach and throat. It is taken internally for asthma, bronchitis, colitis, constipation, coughs, cystitis, flu, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), mouth sores, sinusitis, stomach upsets, tonsillitis, and ulcers. Marshmallow is applied externally, in poultices and gels, to treat abscesses, boils, burns, cuts, and other minor skin wounds, gingivitis, and varicose veins.
Marshmallow is available as dried herb and in capsules, gels, teas, and tinctures. Unlike most herbal teas, marshmallow tea is considered more potent when drunk cold. To make a cold decoction, simmer 1 teaspoon of dried root or 2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh root in 1 cup of water for 15 minutes. Refrigerate until completely cool. Strain and drink up to 3 cups a s day. You may also make a warm tea from the flowers or leaves. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried herb or 2 teaspoons of fresh herb and steep for 15 minutes. Strain, and drink up ot 3 cups a day.
Typical Dose:
A typical dose of marshmallow is approximately 5 gm of the root or 6 gm of the leaf.
Possible Side Effects:
Marshmallow's side effects include hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and allergic reactions.
Drug Interactions:
Taking marshmallow with these drugs may increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar):
Acarbose, (Prandase, Precose)
Acetohexamide, (Acetohexamide)
Chlorpropamide, (Diabinese, Novo-Propamide)
Gliclazide, (Diamicron, Novo-Gliclazide)
Glimepiride, (Amaryl)
Glipizide, (Glucotrol)
Glipizide and Metformin, (Metaglip)
Gliquidone, (Beglynor, Glurenorm)
Glyburide, (DiaBeta, Micronase)
Glyburide and Metformin, (Glucovance)
Insulin, (Humulin, Novolin R)
Metformin, (Glucophage, Riomet)
Miglitol, (Glyset)
Nateglinide, (Starlix)
Pioglitazone, (Actos)
Repaglinide, (GlucoNorm, Prandin)
Rosiglitazone, (Avandia)
Rosiglitazone and Metformin, (Avandamet)
Tolazamide, (Tolinase)
Tolbutamide, (Apo-Tolbutamide, Tol-Tab)
Taking marshmallow with these drugs may interfere with drug absorption:
All drugs taken orally., ()
Lab Test Alterations:
May lower blood glucose results.
Supplement Interactions:
May decrease absorption of other herbs or supplements when taken concurrently.
Culinary Uses:
Root extract may be used as a substitute for egg white in meringue, or mixed with sugar, gum arabic, and egg white to make marshmallow candy. Leaves and flowers are edible.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pg 117
The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide by Geo. T. Grossberg,MD and Barry Fox,PhD Copyright©2007 Barry Fox,PhD pp.332-333
The Modern Herbal Primer by Nancy Burke Copyright©2000 Yankee Publishing, Inc. pp. 78-79