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Herbal Monograph

Herb: Marshmallow Leaf     (Althea officinalis; Malvaceae)

Other Names:    althea, mortification root, sweet weed, wymote, mallards, schloss tea (2); Mallards, guimauve, schloss tea  (57);

The genus Althaea comes from the Greek altho, “associated with healing.”  (61)

Character/Energetics:   cool, moist, sweet    (15)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:    intestines, kidneys and bladder    (14)

Part used:    leaves and flowers    (2)

Identification & Harvesting:     Flowers usu. in axillary or terminal clusters;  five heart-shaped petals;  numerous styles within the flowers;  fruit is 5-8 mm in diam, downy on the outside with fine radiating ribs;  seeds dark brown, smooth, kidney shaped;  plant is 2′-4′ high, hardy, velvety;  root is up to 20″ long, 1″ in diam., erect, with secondary roots.  Stem is erect, succulent, woody at the base, unbranched.  Leaves are short-stalked, ovate.  Secondary leaves are narrow and drooping.  Lower leaves are 5-lobed;  upper leaves are often triangular, wider than long, irregularly and roughly dentate.  Cultivated as a garden plant in temperate regions.  Easy to confuse with other Althea species.    (2)

Collect in summer after flowering.    (8)

Harvest after flowering in late summer    (15)

Root is greyish-white externally, with transverse scars, internally white and fibrous.  Generally sold in the decorticated state, when the outer surface is fibrous and white.  It has deep longitudinal furrows due to drying, and tapers gradually below.  Tastes mucilaginous, mawkish.  Slight odor.  Should be kept dry or will give a yellowish decoction of unpleasant odor.  Leaves are greyish green and velvety, due to a dense covering of stellate hairs, cordate-ovate, pointed, irregularly serrate at the margins, about 2-1/2 inch long and 1-1/4 inch broad, brittle when dry.  Flowers pink, with 8 linear bracts attached to the outer surface of the calyx.    (57)

A member of the mallow family that grows in Europe from England, Denmark, and central Russia south to the Med.  It escaped from gardens in North America, and now grows in salt marshes from Massachusetts to Virginia and in the mountains of the western US.  Root is used more extensively than the leaf.  The leaves are considered less potent.    (61)

Active Constituents:     Mucilages:  a mix of colloidally soluble polysaccharides, chiefly galacturonic rhamnans, arabinogalactans, arabans, and glucans;  pectins; and starches  (2); mucilage; traces of an essential oil (9); mucilage, flavonoids, coumarin, salicylic and other phenolic acids (15)                 

Both leaves and root contain mucilage, the active principle and substance making the tea slimy.  Leaves contain up to 16%, roots 25-30%.    (61)

Actions:    Alleviates local irritation, inhibits mucociliary activity, stimulates phagocytosis;  anti-inflammatory;  anticomplementary agent;  immune stimulant;  hypoglycemic.  (2); …emmolient   (9); Primarily demulcent, diuretic, emollient, lithotriptic;  also alterative, nutritive, vulnerary (14); expectorant, diuretic, demulcent   (15); Demulcent, emollient (57)

The mucilage will line the stomach and possibly slow the absorption of other substances.  Also mildly stimulates the immune system.    (61)

Conditions & Uses:    Used for irritation of oral and pharyngeal mucosa and associated dry cough;  mild inflammation of gastric mucosa;  as a cataplasm for light inflammations and skin burns.  Folk uses include catarrh of the mouth, throat, gastrointestinal and urinary tracts, and inflammation, ulcers, abscesses, burns, constipation, and diarrhea.    (2)

This wonderful demulcent partially owes value to the high mucilage content. Marshmallow is a demulcent that can be used wherever soothing and healing properties are called for. The root is used mainly for digestive problems and on the skin, while the leaf is used for the lungs and the urinary system. This is not a strict differentiation but can be of therapeutic value. In all inflammations of the digestive tract, such as inflammations of the mouth, gastritis, peptic ulcer, enteritis and colitis, the root is strongly advised. For bronchitis, respiratory catarrh and irritating coughs marshmallow leaf should be considered. In urethritis and urinary gravel, the leaf is very soothing. In fact this herb is very soothing for any mucous membrane irritations anywhere. Externally, the root is often used for varicose veins and ulcers as well as abscesses and boils.    (9)

Internal uses — allergies, asthma:  decoction*, powder*.  Bed wetting:  tincture*, fluid extract*, powder*, decoction*.  Bladder problems:  ticture*, fluid extract*, powder*, decoction.  Bleeding (urinary):  powder*, decoction*.  Coughs, hoarseness, inflammations of intestines and respiratory tract, throat inflammations:  syrup, decoction.  Dysentery:  infusion*, decoction*.  Emphysema:  syrup*, infusion*, decoction*.  Kidney stones, lactation:  infusion*, decoction*, powder*, tincture*, fluid extract*.  Lung problems (all):  fluid extract, infusion, decoction.

External uses — bee stings:  poultice of leaves.  eye wash:  infusion (leaves).  Skin inflammations:  poultice, fomentation.  Vaginal irritations:  douche, infusion, decoction.

*Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.

Marshmallow is high in mucilage and is one of the best known remedies to lubricate the lungs, intestines and kidneys in case of infections and inflammation.  As a poultice it is excellent for inflamed parts such as gangrene, open wounds or burns.  Internally, use for lung problems, diarrhea, dysentery and ulcers.  It is excellent to add to douches for vaginal infections.  The tea is good to bathe sore eyes. Use in combination with other diuretic herbs during kidney treatments to assist in the release of stones and gravel.  It is high in minerals, especially calcium, and can be used in combination for its nutritive qualities.    (14)

…The leaves are not as mucilaginous as the root and are used as an expectorant and as a soothing remedy for the urinary system. Both leaves and root have been used as a vegetable. All members of the mallow family have similar properties such as garden hollyhocks and common mallows occasionally used medicinally as well.

Mainly used to soothe and heal bronchial and urinary conditions such as bronchitis, irritating coughs, and cystitis.      (15)    

A popular remedy for cough, bronchitis, generally in combination with other remedies.   In painful complaints of the urinary organs, gonorrhea, cystitis, it exerts a relaxing effect upon the passages as well as acting as a curative.    (57)

Traditionally used in poultices for bruises, muscle aches, sprains, burns and inflammations.  A leaf tea has been used to soothe sore throatand upset stomach;  as an expectorant it has been used for bronchitis and whooping cough.    (61)

Combinations: In ulcerative conditions, internal or external, it may be used with comfrey. For bronchitis and other chest problems, it may be used with licorice and white horehound.

It is often mixed with slippery elm to make ointments.     (9)

A popular remedy for cough, bronchitis, generally in combination with other remedies.    (57)

Precautions:    Absorption of other drugs or herbs may be delayed if taken simultaneously with, or after, marshmallow.  Otherwise, no known hazards or side effects with designated dosages.    (2)

If using the tincture for digestive or urinary disorders, use the hot-water method (see p. 125) to reduce the alcohol.     (15)

The mucilage will line the stomach and possibly slow the absorption of other substances.  High sugar content.  No known side effects.    (61)

Tincturing Process:

Applications:    Compress:  a compress or poultice can be valuably made from this herb. (9)

Tincture: take 1 — 4 ml of the tincture 3x daily.   (9)

Infusion: use for bronchial and urinary disorders (15); Use 10-15 g. dried herb with 1 c. cold water;  stand for 90 min;  warm before drinking.  (2)

Infusion:  steep 5-15 min.;  1 c. at a time, frequently.  Tincture:  30-60 drops (1/2-1 tsp) 3 x daily.  Fluid extract:  1-2 tsp 3 x daily.  Powder:  5-10 #0 capsules (30-60 grains), 3 x daily.    (14)


Dosage:     Infusion: pour boiling water onto  1  — 2   teaspoonful of the dried leaf and let infuse for 10 minutes. Drink 3x daily.   (9)

An infusion of 1 oz to a pint of boiling water is taken frequently in half-cup doses.    (57)

Up to 3 g. capsules daily.  Steep 1-2 tsp dried leaf in 1 cup hot water for 10-15 min;  divide into 3 parts to use throughout the day.  Tincture 20-40 drops up to 5 x daily.    (61)

General Notes:   “…  whoever swallows daily half a cyathus of the juice of any one of them (the mallows) will be immune to all disease.” 

Pliny, AD 77   (15)    



(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 635-36

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 214

(9) The Herbal Handbook by David Hoffman, pg. 56

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 144-45

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pg. 35

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., pgs. 228-30

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 134-35


PHOTO: Wikipedia