Althaea officinalis

Family:  Malvaceae (mallow)
Genus:  Althaea
Species: officinalis

Synonyms and Common names: mallards, Schloss tea, mortification root, sweet weed, hock herb, wymote, mauls, cheeses.

Description and Habitat:  The stems are erect, 3 to 4 ft high and putting out only a few lateral branches. The leaves are roundish, 2 to 3 inches long, and about 1 1/4 inch broad, irregularly toothed at the margin, and thick. They are soft and velvety on both sides, due to a dense covering of stellate hairs. The flowers are shaped like those of the common Mallow but are smaller and of a pale colour of pink.

The flowers bloom during August and September, and are followed, as in other species of this order, by the flat, round fruit called popularly 'cheeses.'

The common Mallow is frequently called by country people, 'Marsh Mallow,' but the true Marsh Mallow is distinguished from all the other Mallows growing in Britain, by the numerous divisions of the outer calyx (six to nine cleft), by the hoary down which thickly clothes the stems, and foliage, and by the numerous panicles of blush-coloured flowers, paler than the Common Mallow.
The roots are perennial, thick, long and tapering, very tough and pliant, whitish yellow outside, white and fibrous within.
Habitat of Marshmallow is that of wet places, ditches and riverbanks.

Parts used: root and leaf.

Collection and preparation:  the leaves should be collected in summer after flowering, and the root is unearthed in autumn. The root should be cleaned and the root fibres removed, and are dried and stored. Leaves should be collected and dried in a dark, dry, warm place.

Constituents:  Root: 25-35% mucilage, tannin, pectin, asparagines.
Leaf: mucilage, a trace of essential oil.

Actions:  Root: demulcent, diuretic, emollient, vulnerary
Leaf: demulcent, expectogorant, diruetic, emollient, anti-catarrhal, pectoral.

Indications:  Leaf:  bronchitis, respiratory catarrh, cystitis, urethritis, urinary gravel or calculi; locally for abscesses, boils and ulcers. Specifically indicated in respiratory catarrh associated with digestive weakness.
Root:  Gastritis, gastric or peptic ulceration, ulcerative colitis, enteritis, inflammation of the mouth or pharynx, respiratory catarrh with irritating dry cough, cystitis; locally for varicose veins and thrombotic ulcers. Specifically indicated in gastric or duodenal ulcer.

Therapeutics: Althaea root is used primarily for digestive problems and topically on the skin, whilst the leaf is used particularly to treat the lungs and the urinary system, although both root and leaf have similar properties.
The root is indicated in all inflammations of the digestive tract including mouth ulcers, hiatus hernia, gastritis, peptic ulcer, enteritis and colitis. Althaea contains large amounts of mucilage, making it an excellent demulcent which coats the gastrointestinal mucosa, particularly in the mouth and pharynx, thus protecting them from local irritation, and it counters excess stomach acid. It is also mildly laxative

Marshmallow is very soothing in urethritis and urinary gravel

Externally, the root is indicated in varicose veins and ulcers as well as in abscesses and boils, and it is used in cosmetics for weather-damaged skin. The peeled root may be given to teething babies to chew on.

The leaf is an effective treatment for bronchitis, respiratory catarrh and irritating coughs. Its demulcent action helps to relieve dry coughs, bronchial asthma and pleurisy and soothes sore throats. Taken as a warm infusion, the leaves help to relieve cystitis and urinary frequency.

When the root is exposed to water it swells to form a soothing gel which is excellent for soothing burns and treating skin diseases, rashes and cuts, and a wash made from the root or leaves can be used for dandruff or an itchy scalp.

The root eaten as a vegetable can help with weight loss as it swells in the stomach making it feel full.

Contraindications:  There are no reported side effects of using Marshmallow herb.

Preparation and dosage:
Decoction: put 1 teaspoonful of the chopped root into a cup of water and boil it gently for 10 to 15 minutes, drink three times a day.
Infusion: pour boiling water onto 1 to 2 teaspoonful of the dried leaf and let it infuse for 10 minutes, drink three times a day
Tincture: take 1 to  4ml. of the tincture three times a day.

In ulcerate conditions, internal or external, it may be used with Comfrey. For bronchitis use with Liquorice and White Horehound.  A good ointment for conditions of the skin is made when combining Marshmallow with Slippery Elm.

Boil the flowers in water and strain off the liquid to use as a gargle, and dried root boiled in milk was an old folk remedy for whooping cough.

Additional comments & Folklore: Marshmallow is a herb which has been cultivated for centuries, the Romans used it as a vegetable (roasted root) and the Greeks extolled its medical properties.  Mallow seeds are used in Chinese medicine and can be added to salads as they have a nutty and pleasant taste, the addition of Mallow flowers makes a tasty change.

Marshmallow candies were originally made from the candied root and used to soothe coughs, however, the marshmallows bought today and roasted over a campfire no longer contain any marshmallow, they are made of sugar, flour and gum.

Mallow leaves may be eaten as a vegetable and cooked like spinach or chopped in salads. They are traditionally eaten to promote milk production whilst breastfeeding.

All Mallows contain abundant mucilage, and the Arab physicians in early times used the leaves as a poultice to suppress inflammation.

The name Althaea is derived from the Greek altho, meaning to heal, and its medicinal qualities have been recognised since Ancient Egyptian times. Theophrastus reported that the root could be added to sweet wine to relieve coughs; Horace and Martial mentioned the laxative properties of the leaves and root, and Pliny wrote that 'whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him'. Marshmallow is mentioned in the Bible and in Arabic and Chinese history as a valuable food during times of famine. In rural France, the young tops and leaves are eaten in salads for their kidney-stimulating effects