The botanical name comes from a Greek word, altho, meaning “to heal”. The modern name comes from the Anglo-Saxon merscmealwe (merse means “marsh,” and mealwe is “mallow”) Marsh mallow was a food before it was a medicine. The Book of Job mentions a plant that was eaten during famines. And during the Middle Ages when crops failed, people boiled marsh mallow roots, then fried them with onions in butter. A dish of mallow was considered a delicacy by the ancient Romans and the Chinese also used a species of mallow for food. Backpacking guides suggest the plant for wilderness foragers today. Fresh young tops are still eaten in France as a spring tonic. The French first candied marsh mallow roots centuries ago (pate de guimauve). They peeled the root bark, exposing the white pulp, and boiled it to soften it and release its sweetness. Then they added sugar. The result eventually evolved into the confection marshmallows. The plant’s history as a medicinal goes back to Theophrastus (372-286BC) who reported that marsh mallow root was taken in sweet wine for coughs. Hippocrates prescribed a decoction of marsh mallow roots to treat bruises and blood loss from wounds. The Greek physician Dioscorides recommended marsh mallow root poultices for insect bites and stings and prescribed the decoction for toothache and vomiting and as an antidote to poisons. 10th century Arab physicians used mallow leaf poultices to treat inflammations and early European folk healers used marsh mallow root both internally and externally for its soothing action in treating toothache, sore throat, digestive upsets, and urinary irritation. Culpeper recommended it and by the mid-19th century, it was included in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia. In the 9th century, Emperor Charlemagne ordered marshmallow cultivated in his monasteries. Those about to undergo torture by hot irons during the Inquisition would paint their skin with an ointment of mallow sap, white of egg and plantain seeds. A coating of this ointment would lessen the effects of the burns and so hopefully prove their innocence.(1)
Demulcent, emollient, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant (1)
Beta-carotene, vitamin Bh vitamin B2, niacin, vitamin Bs, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, unsaturated fatty acids, mucilage, polysaccharides, flavonoids (quercitin, kaempferol), betaine, asparagine, tannins, coumarin, phenolic acids, lecithin, pectin, malic acid
Used whenever a soothing effect is needed, marsh mallow protects and soothes the mucous membranes. The root counters excess stomach acid, peptic ulceration, and gastritis. It reduces the inflammation of gall stones. Marsh mallow is also mildly laxative and beneficial for many intestinal problems, including regional ileitis, colitis, diverticulitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.
The main therapeutic constituent of marsh mallow is mucilage, a spongy substance of the root that is composed of large sugar molecules. Mucilage’s healing effect stems from its ability to support white blood cells against attacking microorganisms. When liquid is added to mucilage, it acquires a gel-like consistency. This gooey substance coats mucous membranes of the throat, mouth, stomach, and intestinal tract and provides relief from inflammation and pain. It also acts to expel phlegm from the lungs and to relax the bronchial tubes.
These anti-inflammatory and anti-irritant properties make marsh mallow a viable remedy for arthritis and joint pain; upper respiratory ailments such as asthma, emphysema, bronchial infections, coughs, sore throats, and lung congestion; inflamed kidneys and urinary tract disorders; and gastrointestinal disturbances including Crohn’s disease, ulcers, colitis, diarrhea, dysentery, and stomach irritation.
The German Commission E has approved marsh mallow as a beneficial treatment for irritated and inflamed throat, pharyngeal, and gastric mucous membranes, and for dry coughs. Teas made from the root and leaf are licensed in Germany as standard medicinal teas. The root is also used as an ingredient in cough syrup and as a cough suppressant tea.
The British Herbal Compendium supports the use of marsh mallow for gastroenteritis, peptic and duodenal ulcers, colitis, and enteritis. In the United States, marsh mallow is an ingredient in dietary supplements and cough suppressants. Marsh mallow provides external treatment for cuts, wounds, abscesses, boils, burns, and varicose veins. A gel created by adding water to finely chopped marsh mallow root may be applied to the affected area to reduce inflammation. A poultice containing cayenne and marsh mallow may relieve blood poisoning, gangrene, burns, bruises, and other wounds.(1)