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.
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
The leaves and roots of marshmallow are the parts used for medicinal
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.
Common cold/sore throat
Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative
Weight loss aid (marshmallow swells with fluid and gives a sense of
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
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.
The following are the recommended adult doses for
Leaf infusion: 1 to 2 tsp in 5 ounces boiled water, two to three times
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
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
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.
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.
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Nosál'ova G, Strapková A, Kardösová A, Capek P, Zathurecký L, Bukovská E.
[Antitussive action of extracts and polysaccharides of marsh mallow (Althea
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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.
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