One of the first medicinal plants I planted in my garden was marshmallow (Althea officinalis).
It thrives along the fence line, enjoying the southern exposure and the company of elecampane (Inula helenium) and lovage (Levisticum officinale).
Where elecampane and lovage have a bold, robust presence in the garden, marshmallow is has a gentle feel, with velvety leaves and quiet flowers.
Marshmallow has been a friend to human beings for a very long time.
The Book of Job recommends eating the roots of a plant called mallow (a close cousin to marshmallow with similar healing powers) during times of famine.
People in the middle ages fried marshmallow roots with onions when crops rotted in fields due to too much rain.
The French on the other hand, created a sweet treat for children with marshmallow roots.
After peeling the bark off the root, the pulp was boiled with sugar to make a sticky, gooey candy reminiscent of today’s marshmallows.
The French even roasted marshmallow root over campfires.
Marshmallow’s medicine is easy to detect. Just pick a leaf off the plant and chew it up.
Soon a think, slimy substance will form as the plant and salvia mix.
This viscous substance is called mucilage and carried marshmallow’s medicine.
It coats the inner linings of the body, the mucous membranes, calming irritation and making it difficult for germs to get a grip on underlying tissues.
Traditionally marshmallow was used as cooling poultice to quicken the healing of bruises, cuts and insect bites.
Any part of marshmallow can be used to make a poultice, leaves, flowers and roots.
These healing properties makes marshmallow an important part of any herbal first aid kit.
Put a few pieces of marshmallow root in a pocket when hiking or make salves and lotions with marshmallows dried leaves for the car’s first aid kit.
Internally marshmallow root is used to calm and cool inflamed tissues of the respiratory, digestive and urinary tract.
It is useful in condition where heat of inflammation has dried out tissues causing them to crack and bleed as in colitis and urinary tract infections. It is extremely soothing for dry, barking coughs.
To prepare marshmallow’s medicine a cold infusion is recommended.
This is an easy but unusual way to make plant medicine.
Chop up marshmallow’s dried leaf or root and place in a cup.
Pour cold water over it, generally 1 tsp. of herb to 1 cup of water, cover and put in the fridge over night. In the morning, the mingling of plant and water will have created a viscous solution that soften, soothes and cools inflammation.
Take one cup three times a day.
I often recommend cold infusion of marshmallow mixed with a little syrup of thyme for children with a wheezy, non-productive cough.
Marshmallow thins out the congested mucous making it easier for the child to cough it up.
Thyme is slightly irritating to bronchi, triggering the cough reflex. The two plants combined create a productive cough and clears the respiratory.
Usually within two day, the child is breathing easier. I have used this preparation successfully on infants only a month old.
Currently a number of studies are being done with marshmallow root.
One study has shown that marshmallow root enhances white blood cells called macrophages ability to devour pathogenic bacteria and virus.
This study supports the herbalist use of marshmallow root on bladder and bronchi infections.
Another study points to a new use for marshmallow root in the apothecary. Marshmallow has shown to help balance blood sugar in diabetic animals.
It is currently being researched for supporting diabetics in managing their blood sugars.
Because many diabetics struggle with re-occurring infections, a daily cup of marshmallow might be a good addition to a maintenance plan for warding off infection and balancing blood sugars.
To grow marshmallow in the garden, pick a moist spot. Plant it as a background plant.
It grows to be a one and a half meters tall.
Harvest the leaves throughout the summer and dry in a room with good airflow.
Harvest the roots in the fall after the plant has died back. Store in a glass jar in a dark cupboard and have medicine for next winter!
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached www.abraherbs.com.