Not just a campfire treat, the marsh mallow plant is a beneficial botanical. It's used to calm peptic ulcers, as a laxative, and to treat cystitis.
The botanical name for marsh mallow, Althaea officinalis, is Greek for “to cure.” Pliny the Elder (23 to 79 AD), naturalist and philosopher, said, “Whosoever shall take a spoonful of mallow shall be free from all diseases that may come.”
Theophrastus (c372 to c287 BC), successor to Aristotle and author of Enquiry into Plants and On the Causes of Plants, described how sweet wine was infused with marsh mallow as a remedy for coughs.
Multipurpose Marsh Mallow
Marsh mallow is a demulcent (an agent that forms a soothing film over a mucous membrane) and provides a calming effect by counteracting excess stomach acid, peptic ulcers, and gastritis.
Marsh mallow is also a mild laxative, making it beneficial for many intestinal problems, including ileitis (inflammation of the small intestine), diverticulitis (inflammation of the large intestine), colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.
The leaves and roots of marsh mallow are useful in treating cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), hiatus hernia, and frequent urination. The plant’s demulcent properties relieve dry coughs, bronchial asthma and congestion, allergic rhinitis, and pleurisy.
Marsh mallow’s flowers and leaves abound in mucilage (a gelatinous substance), but the roots are the richest source, containing about 37 percent starch, 11 percent mucilage, 11 percent pectin, as well as flavonoids, phenolic acids (both rich in antioxidants), sucrose, and asparagines (amino acids essential to all living cells for the production of protein).
Medicinal Marsh Mallow
The most effective delivery method for marsh mallow is a tincture, usually one teaspoon three times a day, but a tea can also be made from the leaves, flowers, and roots. Marsh mallow flowers may be applied topically to soothe inflamed skin. Ointment made from the root is used for boils and abscesses, and peeled root can be used as a chew stick to relieve teething pain in babies.
Marsh mallow also hinders the enzymatic deterioration of the skin and connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons by improving moisture levels. This enhances skin’s flexibility, boosts its dermal structure, and improves wound healing. Skin aging is reduced and inflammation, especially in the joints, is diminished.
No contraindications in the use of marsh mallow have been noted, except that due to the herb’s demulcent action, absorption of some pharmaceutical drugs may be impaired if taken simultaneously.
Mmm … Marsh Mallow
Culinary use of marsh mallow is minimal, but the uncooked young tops and leaves of the plant can be added to salads. The roots have more substance and can be prepared as a side vegetable by first boiling or steaming and then frying with onions in butter.
Marsh mallow makes an attractive addition to any garden, with pink or white petals and a velvety calyx. The plant prefers marshy fields and tidal zones. Marsh mallow is harvested in summer as the plant starts to flower, and the roots of plants that are at least two years old are unearthed in the fall. Related species include the common mallow and the hollyhock.
It seems there is much more to marsh mallow than meets the eye–or the tastebuds! The marsh mallow has many uses, making it a versatile staple in any medicine cabinet.
Marsh Mallow 101
Marshmallows used for roasting around campfires now include artificial colours and flavours, corn syrup, dextrose, gelatin, modified corn starch, sugar, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, and water, and no longer contain the herb as an ingredient.
The confection was formerly made from the herb’s root, hence the name. Prior to gelatin, the mucilaginous quality of marsh mallow gave the confection its malleable texture.