Marshmallow is best known for being the originator of the sweet lovely confection we call marshmallows today. Before you get too excited, the marshmallows you buy in the store have nothing in common with the herb as of 2023 and haven’t for decades. They originated from medicinal confections made by boiling the root of Althaea officinalis, which is now quite rare in the wild but is easily grown in a garden. Store-bought mallows are pure sugary goodness with no medicinal purpose. Eat your s’mores, but know that they are only good for your soul, not your thighs. I found this article on the history of marshmallows if you are interested in learning more about where it orginated. I am in no way affiliated with the website.
Greek, althos = healer
Called a “marsh” mallow, because it likes to grow in marshes and other moist areas.
Marshmallow candies of old got their name because of the fluffy qualities of marshmallow root, but the sweet confections you find in the store today have no medicinal value. The herb, marshmallow, will not be found in them. Unless you make them yourself or find someone who knows how to, you usually won’t find medicinal marshmallows…anywhere.
Since Althaea is becoming rare, Malva officinalis is now commonly used in its place since it has many of the same benefits, but it is less useful. If you want Althaea, please look into growing it yourself. Romans and Egyptians ate it as a vegetable, so a garden spot is not too far-fetched.
Do not over-harvest when wildcrafting and foraging. Be responsible. Plants can go extinct just like animals.
Mallow is a biennial plant (life-span is two years) that grows about 5-6 feet tall. It has a ‘pulpy’ taproot, erect stem, 5-lobed leaves with scalloped margins, and either white or reddish pink to mauve-colored flowers. Native to parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia, mallow is now naturalized in most of the Americas and Australasia. It likes to grow in open areas, along roadsides, and on fences/hedgerows/tree lines. The leaves can be gathered in the spring, and the flowers and buds can be gathered in the summer when in bloom. Roots are best harvested in the fall.
Biennials (in their first year) and perennial plant roots harvested in the fall have all the goodness the plant needs to make it through the winter. Roots harvested in the spring are depleted of everything you want from the plant.
If harvesting an annual root, you will want to harvest earlier, like mid-late summer, while the plant is at its peak. It varies with each plant.
Be warned: Harvesting roots kills the plant unless it can regrow from bits of root left behind. Most plants cannot survive, however.
Mallow has been used medicinally for centuries and has an extremely long history in folk medicine that goes all the way back to ancient Greek and Egyptian times. More than 2,800 years ago, references to Marshmallow can be found in Homer’s Illiad. It is commonly known now as a ‘slippery’ herb that treats coughs, sore throats, and congestion. The plant contains powerful constituents that break up mucus, reduce inflammation, and kill bacteria. Ayurvedic medicine and Unani healing practices also utilize Mallow, along with many other plants, to boost the immune system and prevent disease.
This weed is perhaps amongst the most valuable of plants that ever grew. Its leaves stewed, and applied wet, will cure, and almost instantly cure, any cut or bruise or wound of any sort…And its operation is in all cases so quick that it can hardly be believed.William Cobbett, from Backyard Medicine, page 109, 2nd Edition
Leaves, flowers, and roots are used medicinally and contain:
*The flowers also contain malvin (an anthocyanin–an antioxidant that is anti-inflammatory and protects the body from a plethora of diseases, including cancer).
Marshmallow has been known to treat illnesses and disorders, including:
- dry coughs and colds
- dry mouth/low saliva production
- bacterial infections, like bladder infections, UTI’s, and respiratory infections
- bronchitis and tonsillitis
- inflamed joint pain
- diarrhea, stomach ulcers, constipation, and other digestive disorders
- inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut syndrome, and autoimmune disorder
- burns, wounds, and insect bites
- eczema and dermatitis
- water retention, bloating, and PMS
“A kitchen and mallow, sufficient medicines for a home.”Old Spanish adage
Mallow root is popular among singers because of the moistening effect that it has on the mucus membranes. It has a very mild flavor, so it easily combines with licorice, cinnamon, or other flavors of your choice while still retaining its properties.
…low growing crinkly leaves tend to accumulate heavy metals from vehicle exhaust…do your picking well away from busy roads…Backyard Medicine, pg. 110, 2nd Edition
Marshmallow has antitussive properties, which is what makes Guaifenesin so helpful for coughs and colds. It decreases inflammation and irritation in the throat, reduces swelling of lymph nodes, speeds up healing time, and reduces the aggravation caused by dry coughs. It also forms a protective film on the throat that helps with irritation and pain, much like honey, when taken internally. For this reason, natural cough remedies like syrups and lozenges you find in health food stores and elsewhere usually have marshmallow extract added to the recipe.
Did you know?
Mallow is related to Okra and Hibiscus!
The coating that marshmallow leaves helps to stop the urge to cough and facilitates saliva production in the mouth, which can be great for dry mouth. Mallow is safely used for chronically low levels of salivation and chronic coughing.
When mixed with other herbs like slippery elm, echinacea, and lemon, mallow is very effective at treating colds and the flu. Mallow soothes the throat, while the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of the other herbs help fight off infection.
Herbs target underlying causes of sickness rather than covering them up like pharmaceuticals.
Taking mallow at the first signs of discomfort like swelling, burning, and tenderness may help ease symptoms and speed up the healing process of various ailments like tonsillitis, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, and respiratory infections.
Mallow is a laxative, and in times past, was known as an omnimorbia, a cure-all, because it was believed back then that expelling blood or waste from the body was the cure for almost everything.
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Mallow can be used in so many ways. I would suggest you do your own research on this wonderful plant because I can guarantee that you will find more information than I have here. And if you want a place to start, try The Herbal Academy. I am not affiliated with them, but I have learned quite a bit from the Academy over the years. And they aren’t the only place to find wonderful information to broaden your knowledge on plants in general.
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Emma Lee Joy
8 thoughts on “Marshmallow”
I’d be interested in trying the original marshmallow recipe 😋
That would be cool. I’ll have to see what I can dig up on it…pun intended hehe.
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