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Herbal Monograph

Herb:   MARSHMALLOW ROOT   (Althea  officinalis; Malvaceae)

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

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

Character/Energetics:   sweet, bitter, cool (6);     …moist   (15)                       

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:   lungs, stomach, kidneys (6); intestines, kidneys and bladder (14)

Part used:   root   (6)                                                                                                           

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.  Harvest roots in October or November, and dry at a maximum of 90F.  Easy to confuse with other Althea species.    (2)

The root should be unearthed in late autumn. It is cleaned of root fibers and cork.  Dry immediately.   (9)

Harvest in fall or winter.   (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.    (61)

Active Constituents:    Mucilages:  a mix of colloidally soluble polysaccharides, chiefly galacturonic rhamnans, arabinogalactans, arabans, and glucans;  pectins; and starches.    (2)

starch, mucilage, pectin, oil, sugar, asparagin, phosphate of lime, glutinous matter, cellulose (6); 25-35% mucilage;  tannins;  pectin;  asparagine  (8); … polysaccarides, tannins    (15)             

Both leaves and root contain mucilage, the active principle and the substance that makes 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);

yin tonic, nutritive, alterative, diuretic, demulcent, emollient, vulnerary, laxative  (6); demulcent, diuretic, emollient, vulnerary.    (8)            

Primarily demulcent, diuretic, emollient, lithotriptic;  also alterative, nutritive, vulnerary.    (14)

….expectorant, heals wounds     (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)

Marshmallow root is used to treat wasting and thirsting diseases, tuberculosis, diabetes, cough, dryness and inflammation of the lungs, gangrene, septicemia, ulcers, pain of kidney stones, difficult or painful urination, blood in the urine, stool or nose, and vomiting or spitting of blood.     (6)     

             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,

MARSHMALLOW ROOT   (Althea  officinalis; Malvaceae)

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)

Taking its botanical name from a Greek word, altho, meaning “to heal,” marshmallow has been used since ancient Egyptian times. The root, rich in sugars, is very mucilaginous and softening for the tissues. 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.          

Externally, the root is used for wounds, burns, boils, and skin ulceration. Internally, it is taken for inflammations of the mucous membranes: gastritis, esophagitis, enteritis, peptic ulceration, to ease hiatus hernia, and for urinary inflammations such as 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.  The powdered or crushed fresh roots make a good poultice, which may be relied upon to remove the most obstinate inflammation and prevent mortification.  The addition of slippery elm is an advantage, and it should be applied to the part as hot as can be borne, renewing the poultice when dry.    (57)

Traditionally used in poultices for bruises, muscle aches, sprains, burns and inflammations.  The leaves are considered less potent.  Root is used to relieve local irritations, stimulate the immune system, relieve lung congestion and mild inflammation of the mucous membranes in the GI tract.    (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 : add about 1 oz of almost boiling water to tincture dose (1 tsp) to effectively evaporate the alcohol [see page 125].   (15)

Mucilage content is the factor that can slow absorption of other substances.    (1)

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)

Decoction:  simmer 5-15 min;  6 oz. 3 x daily.  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:      6‑15 gms.     (6)

Up to 3 g. capsules daily.  Steep 1-2 tsp dried leaf or 1 tsp dried root 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)

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

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)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, “Herb/Drug Interactions” by Varro Tyler, PhD, ScD, Prevention, Sept. ’98, p. 97

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

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 323

(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