Ahhh... the hint of fall is everywhere and I’ve been reaching for my chai teas and sweaters a little too much lately only to then get upended by another warm burst of Virginia weather. For me, the first wave of illness is what really signifies the shift in season. One of my personal telltale signs is an annoying tickle in my throat that just won’t go away even with copious amounts of tea and honey. It takes at least a day for it to dawn on me that the time of year has come for the support of Marshmallow.
Whenever my clients or I have a tickle or feeling of dryness in the throat or a feeling of dryness one of my go-to herbs is Marshmallow Root. The versatility of any one plant still astounds me day and this demure wunderkind is a spotlight for sure to be explored.
Oh, Marshmallow, I can imagine it's hard being an inflammatory whiz kid: making it simple for people to help one support their health and help others on feeling better and at ease, too. On a plant spirit level think: comfort. Marshmallow is the friend that is always there when you need her to soothe, to comfort and to give relief to what ails you.
For me, my own personal herbal routine shifts from season to season and I add Marshmallow straight away come Autumn but not as a the way most think of Marshmallow as toppers to hot cocoa or the gushy sweet in my s’mores sandwich, but I add her as a plant that has a full history of being touted and know for its medicinal properties.
According to Wikipedia, here is some history of Marshmallow because it is kinda fascinating how long this plant has been around:
The word "marshmallow" comes from the mallow plant species (Althaea officinalis), an herb native to parts of Europe, North Africa, and Asia which grows in marshes and other damp areas. The plant's stem and leaves are fleshy and its white flower has five petals. It is not known exactly when marshmallows were invented, but their history goes back as early as 2000 B.C. Ancient Egyptians were said to be the first to make them and eating them was a privilege strictly reserved for gods and for royalty, who used the root of the plant and to soothe coughs and sore throats, and to heal wounds. The first marshmallows were prepared by boiling pieces of root pulp with honey until thick. Once thickened, the mixture was strained, cooled, and then used as intended.
Ways to Work with Marshmallow:
I love pointing out Common Mallow on my seasonal Plant ID Walks and having the participants taste a leaf or flower (great for foraged salads) - its mild flavor and slightly slippery qualities often brings a “Wow!” factor for its healing and soothing properties.
Being a slippery herb (demulcent) with lots of mucilage its main job is to heal by coating and soothing any inflammation that is on a mucous membrane. So for folks that have what I consider a “hot” digestive complaint - reflux, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, heartburn or ulcers - the first thing we look at is adding marshmallow root as a cold infusion to coat and soothe. The magic of mending or healing with Marshmallow comes by the coating of the digestive tract all the way from the start of your mouth to your bottom: it is your alimentary canal from top to bottom. I think you might get the picture…. at least I hope so!
Dry, Coughs: I also love Marshmallow for that tickly, DRY, spasmodic cough and dry throat that comes when we turn on our stoves and heat at the turn of the season. It’s going to help with the inflammation and “coughing fits” from bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis and pleurisy. Imagine: taking a paintbrush of Marshmallow to the lungs and watch it soothe and coat, soothes and coat...ahhhh...much better.
Allergies & Air Irritants: Marshmallow is especially helpful right now with all the irritants that are out in the air: the ghastly pollen, mold, mildew, ragwort is binding people up right now. Marshmallow is also used, typically, for allergic rhinitis that has a strong mucus component (aka yellow or green). I’ll make a quart of medicinal infusion (like a tea) with Marshmallow and other immune building herbs like Echinacea, Elderflower and Thyme to make a tea that you can drink to relieve your symptoms but also increase your immunity in the future. Allergies are one of those ailments that you have to find the right combo for your body and then stick with it - so this might not work for those who have just the sneezing and not the mucus.
Inflammation & Wounds: One of Marshmallow’s lesser known uses is for skin for inflammation and wounds (which combines nicely with honey for added wound support). I am currently experimenting with a new facial product using Marshmallow Leaves and Flowers infused in oil to soothe the redness out of skin such as Psoriasis, Eczema and Rosacea.
Urinary/Kidney Support: It’s cooling nature helps help with frequent cystitis (UTI) or bladder infections and is gentle enough for children and elderly to prevent and calm the inflammed tissue along the urinary tract (with other herbal remedies) that help fight the infection. If I think about the slippery nature of this herb, it also creates a barrier on the mucous membranes for spreading infection.
How to Make a Cold Infusion of Marshmallow:
- Fill a jar 1/4 of the way full with cut and sifted Marshmallow Root
- Fill the rest of the jar with warm water and allow infusion to sit for 4-12 hours.
- Strain and serve. You can add a little bit of juice, if needed, to get it down (it has a sweet, earthy taste).
- Refrigerate up to 3 days (these can be then composted for your garden).
- You can also add Infusion to any herbal tea and brew as a preventative measure. This is why we have Marshmallow in our Wild Roots Apothecary Peppermint Belly Tea!
- Additionally, you can also make it as a decoction by taking ½ cup of Marshmallow Root, adding it to 4 cups of water, boil with the cover on for about 20 minutes, and then sip or add with other blends.
Foraging & Growing Marshmallow:
Habitat: Edges of salt and freshwater marshes and it can be grown in the garden, but the root doesn’t get as big as when found in the wild however the garden version is still great for the flowers and leaves.
Plant ID: Tall upright 2-4 foot tall, edge of wet places, with a alternating leaf pattern and small red to pink flowers. Have a plant ID book handy when looking for this.
Another Mallow that can be helpful: Common Mallow which is a small, low-growing wildflower that is plentiful in the fall and spring before the heat sets in. You can use the leaves, flower and root for medicinal uses and the leaf and flower are good for foraged greens.
Colleen O’Bryant is a trained herbalist and not a licensed doctor or registered healthcare practitioner. She cannot and does not claim to diagnose health conditions, nor prescribe medicines. Colleen O’Bryant does not claim that the information and products she provides to Client will prevent, alleviate, or cure any diseases or medical conditions. The information and products Colleen and Wild Roots Apothecary provides is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment. Please consult your medical care provider before using herbal products, particularly if you have a known medical condition, allergy or if you are pregnant or nursing. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises. Wild Roots Apothecary statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA and they are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. Client understands that Colleen is not yet certified by the American Herbalists Guild, but by working with clients such as yourself she is gaining the required hours of practice to apply towards her certification.
Wild Roots Apothecary does not claim to be a pharmacy or prescribe medicines. Additionally, Wild Roots does not claim to be able to cure or relieve the client's specific condition or illness with the herbal formulations or recommendations provided.