Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Herb of the Week - Marshmallow or Marsh Mallow

I have had some trouble writing these this year.  I get a post started, begin my research, then then I never finish them.  This week I finally stopped organizing my house and sat down to finish the several herb of the week posts I began back in January.

Today we are focusing on a wonderfully medicinal herb that does not get much attention.  And if you have a wet area in your yard and like late summer flower, this plant is perfect for you!

This week's HERB of the WEEK is Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinlis)

This plant is related to Hollyhock and looks very similar, but it does not have as striking a flower.  It’s been used for centuries in a broad range of ways. The genus name comes from the Greek, altho, meaning "to cure." The family name, Malvaceae, is also of Greek derivation, from malake, meaning soft, both indicating the emollient, healing properties of this plant, which have long been recognized. Pliny remarked: "Whosoever shall take a spoonful of Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him." Early recorded uses include poultices to reduce inflammation and spongy lozenges to soothe coughs and sore throats - from which the modern confectionery is descended, though it no longer contains any of the herb. Marshmallow root was eaten as a vegetable by the Romans and in many Middle Eastern and European countries was a standby in times of famine when food was scarce. In more recent times it was a springtime country tradition to eat the young shoots, or make them into a syrup, to "purify the blood".

To Grow

A hardy perennial with tall stems covered with soft, downy leaves and pale pink flowers clustered at the leaf axils in late summer. It reaches 3 to 4 ft in height. It has large, fleshy taproots and seed head or fruit that is ring-shaped with a ring of seeds called cheeses.  It grows in salt marshes, near sea coasts and in moist in land areas, throughout Europe, in temperate regions of Asia, North America and Australia.

It prefers moist to wet soil and a sunny situation. Propagated by division in autumn or by
seed sown in late summer.  Seed is not often recommended, as germination is often erratic, but you can sow it shallowly outdoors in spring, thinning the plants to 2 feet when they  germinate. 
To propagate from the root divide the rhizomes or take cuttings from foliage or roots in the fall.

The velvety foliage will die back to the ground in the fall.

To Use
One can use the seeds, leaves, roots, and flowers. Harvest the leaves in fall just before flowering.  Collect and dry flowers at their peak.  Dig taproots in fall from plants at least 2 years old, scrub them and cook them like potatoes or slice before drying.  If you want them dried, cut the roots into pieces while they are fresh.  Once dry they are very, very hard.

Use leaves to add a fresh flavor to salads, or slice and cook the roots like a potato.  The roots were originally used to produce the sticky substance with consistency typical of the confection marshmallows.

The roots contain natural sugars and were used in early medicinal sweets and the original recipe for marshmallow treat. At one time the young roots and leaves were boiled, then fried with onions as a spring vegetable, or added to salads- but neither is very palatable.

All plants of the mallow family contain mucilage.  Marshmallow has the most.  The whole herb contains a sweet mucilage that is soothing and softening.   It relieves inflamed gums and mouth, gastric ulcers, diarrhea, bronchial infections and coughs. Leaves and roots can be applied externally as a poultice to soothe and reduce the heat in ulcers, boils, inflammation of the skin and insect bites.  It is used in cosmetics for weather damaged skin.

According to Rosemary Floret marshmallow roots are typically prepared using cold water. Marshmallow roots are high in polysaccharides and starches. By using a cold infusion you extract mainly the mucilaginous polysaccharides. If you simmer the root you also extract the starches in the plant.

Cold Marshmallow Infusion (Tea)
a jar and lid
marshmallow root
lukewarm water

To make this preparation, simply fill a jar 1/4 of the way with marshmallow root. Just cover with luke warm water, place the lid on the jar and let steep for lat least 4 hours.  Remove the roots and use the resulting liquid which will change color to a soft yellow. And be thick and viscous.

Once you have this liquid you can use it in the following ways:
  1.  Mouth Wash -  Use it to treat painful mouth conditions like mouth ulcers, canker sores, cuts on the inside of the cheeks, inflamed gums and even sore throats are soothed with a marshmallow rinse. Simply swish the cold infused tea around in your mouth to coat the affected tissues.
  2. Heartburn home remedy  -  Use this cold infusion to find relief from heartburn, peptic ulcers, and inflamed intestines. Besides being able to soothe inflammation, marshmallow root can also  heal wounds within the digestive tract.
  3. Skin Wash – As a topical treatment for wounds and burns, it has been known to prevent gangrene.


Marshmallows can be made adding eggs and food coloring to to the gelatinous liquid produced by steeping or boiling the roots.  There is a great recipe available from Rosmary Floret at Learning  Here is the connection.

I have made various teas with the roots, leaves and flowers harvested from marshmallow.  Here are a few of those recipes.

Heartburn Tea
3 parts Marshmallow Root 
2 parts Marshmallow Leaf 
1 part Spearmint Leaf 

Blend herbs and keep in an airtight container.  Use 1 to 2 tsp. per cup pf hot water and steep for 7 to 10 minutes.  Sip slowly to alleviate heartburn.

Soothing Throat herbal tea
Linden flowers
elder flowers
rose hips
marsh mallow flowers

Combine herbs in equal amounts in an airtight container.  Use 1 to 2 tsp. per cup pf hot water and steep for 7 to 10 minutes.  Many medicinal benefits in this blend of plants and flowers makes it perfect for sore throats and as a boost in immunity.
Marshmallow salve for dry skin
Marshmallow roots, leaves and flowers 
8 ounces of base oil (jojoba, coconut, olive, almond or walnut oil)

Place the herbs in a glass jar.  Add the oil, being sure to cover all the herbs.  Place the jar in a pan of warm water and simmer on low heat for about 8 hours allowing the marshmallow to infuse into the oil.  Use this oil as a topical on dry skin or make into a simple salve.

To make a simple salve, grate up some beeswax and add it to the hot infused oil, stirring continuously until it melts. (About 1oz beeswax to 8 fluid ozs of oil) Test on the back of a wooden spoon to see whether it is of a suitable consistency, then pour into small jars and seal. If you are not confident to do the spoon test, an easier way of checking is to drop a very small amount of oil plus melted wax into cold water in a small bowl or mug. The salve will immediately cool and you can rub it between your fingers to check the desired thickness.

The salve will thicken on cooling, usually from the bottom upwards if you pour into cold jars. It will usually be a paler color than the original oil.
Cough Relief Herbal Blend
This is a rather elaborate tea blend, but it will work on a multitude of different types of coughs and bronchial issues.  You can make it in advance and use all winter!

4 parts Peppermint Leaf
2 parts each:
  Red Clover Blossoms
Mullein Leaf
  Nettle Leaf
  Echinacea Purpurea Leaf
  Marshmallow Root
1 part each:
  White Pine Bark
  Elecampane Root
  Echinacea Purpurea Root
  Wild Cherry Bark
  Licorice Root
Combine herbs and keep in a airtight jar.  Brew 1 to 2 tsp of mixture per cup of hot water and sip to sooth coughing and throat issues.


Rodale’s Successful Organic Herb Gardening Herbs by Patrica Michalak (Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA: 1993)

Herbs by Leslie Bremness (Dorling & Kindersley Books, London: 2000)
Copyright © 2016 LearningHerbs

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