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Table of Contents > Herbs > Marshmallow
Marshmallow
Botanical Name:  Althaea officinalis
 
Overview
Plant Description
Parts Used
Medicinal Uses and Indications
Available Forms
How to Take It
Precautions
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research

Overview

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)—the herb, not the white puffy confection roasted over a campfire—has been used for centuries as both a food and a medicine. Its botanical name comes from the Greek word "altho," which means "to cure." The Romans, Chinese, Egyptians, and Syrians used marshmallow as a source of food, while the Arabs made poultices from its leaves and applied this to the skin to reduce inflammation. The mucilage, or gummy secretion, in the leaves and particularly the root is helpful for soothing sore throats, chapped skin, and minor wounds.


Plant Description

Found in southern and western Europe, western Asia, and the northeastern region of North America, marshmallow originally grew in salty soils but now thrives in moist, uncultivated ground. Its fleshy, erect stems reach a height of three to four feet. The stems give off simple branches or, at most, a few sideways branches. 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 three to five 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.


Medicinal Uses and Indications

Professional herbalists may recommend marshmallow for the following health problems based on its long history of use in traditional healing systems, as well as results of laboratory and animal studies.

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Common cold/sore throat
  • Cough
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Weight loss aid (marshmallow swells with fluid and gives a sense of fullness)
  • Wound healing

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.


How to Take It

Pediatric

Adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the appropriate dose of marshmallow for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.

Adult

The following are the recommended adult doses for marshmallow:

  • Leaf infusion: 1 to 2 tsp in 5 ounces boiled water, two to three times daily
  • Leaf fluid extract: Ľ to ˝ tsp (1:1 g/mL), two to three times daily
  • Leaf tincture: 1 to 2 tsp (1:5 in 25% ethanol), two to three times daily
  • Root infusion or cold-water maceration (2% to 5%): 5 ounces (1 to 2 tsp) taken to soothe cough and sore throat
  • Dried root: 2 to 6 g or equivalent preparations daily (cold infusion three times per day)
  • Marshmallow cough syrup (from root): 2 to 10 g per single dose (syrup contains sugar, so people with diabetes should use with caution)
  • Root topical preparations: 5% to 10% drug in ointment or cream base

Precautions

The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.

There are no reported side effects of marshmallow, and it appears to be safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.


Possible Interactions

Marshmallow may interfere with the absorption of certain medications. For this reason, it is important to take marshmallow several hours before or after ingesting other herbs or medications.


Supporting Research

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.

British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. 4th ed. Great Britain: Biddles Ltd, Guildford and King's Lynn; 1996: 151-152.

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. 3rd ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer; 1998:150,183.

White L, Mavor S. Kids, Herbs, Health. Loveland, Colo: Interweave Press; 1998:22, 35-36.


Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh, Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; David Winston, Herbalist (September 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; R. Lynn Shumake, PD (March 2000), Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

 
RELATED INFORMATION
  Uses of this Herb
Asthma
Bronchitis
Common Cold
Cough
Crohn's Disease
Peptic Ulcer
Pharyngitis
Ulcerative Colitis
Wounds
  Herbs with Similar Uses
View List by Use
  Drugs that Interact
Summary
  Related Articles
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  Learn More About
Herbal Medicine
 

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