Marshmallow

Introduction

Overview

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) -- the herb, not the white puffy confection roasted over a campfire -- has been used for more than 2,000 years as both a food and a medicine. The Romans, Chinese, Egyptians, and Syrians used marshmallow as a source of food, while the Arabs made poultices from its leaves and applied them to the skin to reduce inflammation. Both the root and leaves contain a gummy substance called mucilage. When mixed with water, it forms a slick gel that is used to coat the throat and stomach to reduce irritation. It is also applied topically to soothe chapped skin.

Few scientific studies have looked at the effects of marshmallow in humans. Most of its suggested uses come from a long history of use in traditional healing systems. However, one recent study confirmed that marshmallow preparations help soothe irritated mucous membranes.

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Common cold/sore throat
  • Cough
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Indigestion
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Skin inflammation

Available Forms

Dried leaves may be used in infusions, fluid extracts, and tinctures. Marshmallow roots are available dried, peeled, or unpeeled in extracts (dry and fluid), tinctures, capsules, ointments/creams, and cough syrups.

Precautions

The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.

Marshmallow is generally considered to be safe. It has no reported side effects. It appears to be safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, although you should check with your health care provider before taking it. One study suggests marshmallow may lower blood sugar levels, so people with diabetes should talk to their health care provider before taking marshmallow.

Possible Interactions

Marshmallow coats the lining of the stomach so it may interfere with the absorption of other drugs or herbs. To avoid any problems, take marshmallow several hours before or after taking other herbs or medications.

  • Lithium -- Marshmallow may increase the amount of lithium in the body and thereby increase the risk of side effects.
  • Antidiabetes drugs -- Marshmallow may decrease blood sugar. Taking diabetes medications along with marshmallow may result in your blood sugar going too low.

Supporting Research

Basch E, Ulbricht C, Hammerness P, Vora M. Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis L.) monograph. J Herb Pharmacother. 2003;3(3):71-81.

Buechi S, Vogelin R, von Eiff MM, Ramos M, Melzer J. Open trial to assess aspects of safety and efficacy of a combined herbal cough syrup with ivy and thyme. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2005 Dec;12(6):328-32.

Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:244-248.

Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. 2nd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 1998:99.

Franz G. Polysaccharides in pharmacy. Current applications and future concepts. Planta Med. 1989; 55:493-497.

Newall C, Anderson L, Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:188.

Nosál'ova G, Strapková A, Kardösová A, Capek P, Zathurecký L, Bukovská E. [Antitussive action of extracts and polysaccharides of marsh mallow (Althea officinalis L., var. robusta)] [German]. Pharmazie. 1992;47(3): 224-226.

Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler V. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physicians' Guide to Herbal Medicine. 4th ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer; 2000:29,182.

Sutovska M, Nosalova G, Franova S, Kardosova A. The antitussive activity of polysaccharides from Althaea officinalis l., var. Robusta, Arctium lappa L., var. Herkules, and Prunus persica L., Batsch. Bratisl Lek Listy. 2007;108(2):93-9.

Alternative Names

Althaea officinalis

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Marshmallow

Plant Description

Marshmallow originally grew in salty soils but now thrives in moist, uncultivated ground. It is found in southern and western Europe, western Asia, and the northeastern region of North America. Its fleshy, upright stems reach a height of 3 - 4 feet. The pale yellow roots are tapered, long, and thick, with a tough yet flexible exterior. The short stemmed leaves are round, with irregularly toothed margins and 3 - 5 lobes. A soft and velvety down covers the leaves and stem. The flowers have five reddish white petals. The whole plant, especially the root, is filled with mild mucilage.

Parts Used

The leaves and roots of marshmallow are the parts used for medicinal purposes.

How to Take It

Pediatric

There is no data to suggest what dose is appropriate for a child, so you may want to ask your child's pediatrician.

Adult

The dose is dependent on the form being used. Marshmallow is used as a poultice, tea, tincture, and capsule, among other forms.

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Review Date: April 3, 2011

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