I love single herbs that seemingly do everything.
Their complexity could inspire a lifetime of devotion to learning the intricate ways they could be used for food and medicine, as well as the ways they support their habitat and the gifts they bring the earth. Single herbs that can be used in a variety of ways are called “polycrest herbs.”
At first glance marshmallow seems like a specific plant. Its claim to fame is being the #1 go-to demulcent herb for many herbalists.
Demulcent herbs are slimy and thick and are typically used to soothe mucous membranes. Like many demulcent herbs, marshmallow is cooling and moistening, bringing relief to hot and dry conditions.
Despite having the specificity of being a demulcent herb, marshmallow (Althea officinalis) is a polycrest herb. It’s been used for centuries in a broad range of ways. The genus name for marshmallow is derived from the Greek word altho, which means to cure. This gives us a powerful indication of how highly regarded this plant was in ancient times.
Marshmallow root has been the featured herb at HerbMentor.com.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know this wonderful plant on a deeper level by making a variety of preparations with it. Most often though, I use it as a tea.
The majority of the time we make teas and long infusions we use hot water to extract the plant material. But marshmallow roots are typically prepared using cold water.
Marshmallow roots are high in polysaccharides and starches. By using a cold infusion you extract mainly the mucilaginous polysaccharides. If you simmer the root you also extract the starches in the plant (which is okay; the cold infusion is considered to be a purer extract of the mucilage.)
Today, we are going to learn how to make a cold infusion out of marshmallow roots and then explore the myriad of ways this single preparation can be used.
To make a cold infusion you will need:
- a jar and lid
- marshmallow root (You can buy marshmallow root here)
- lukewarm water
To make this preparation, simply fill a jar 1/4 of the way with marshmallow root.
Then fill the jar with lukewarm water and cover with a lid.
Let sit for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight. The water should change color to a soft yellow.
Strain off the roots. The resulting liquid should be thick and viscous.
Now that we see how easy it is to prepare this root let’s look at the many ways we can use it!
Marshmallow makes a wonderful mouth wash for painful mouth conditions. Mouth ulcers, canker sores, cuts on the inside of the cheeks, inflamed gums and even sore throats are soothed with a marshmallow rinse. Simply swish the cold infused tea around in your mouth to coat the affected tissues.
Heartburn home remedy and Ulcers
Try adding a little peppermint to the cold infusion to find relief from heartburn, peptic ulcers, and inflamed intestines. Besides being able to soothe inflammation, marshmallow root is also a vulnerary, healing wounds within the digestive tract. Herbalist Paul Bergner calls this a bandaid for the stomach. Of course, addressing the root cause of these issues is recommended for long term care. It’s a great heartburn home remedy.
Marshmallow root is an amazing topical treatment for wounds and burns. In the past it was called mortification root because of its ability to prevent gangrene.
Externally, marshmallow root is very useful in the form of poultice, to discuss painful, inflammatory tumors, and swellings of every kind, whether the consequence of wounds, bruises, burns, scalds, or poisons; and has, when thus applied, had a happy effect in preventing the occurrence of gangrene. The infusion or decoction may be freely administered.
–King’s American Dispensary, 1898
Marshmallow works in complex ways. It is used as a lubricating demulcent for the lungs and for the urinary tract, even though it never comes in direct contact with these surfaces.
Herbalist Jim McDonald explains:
Though it makes sense that demulcents coat tissues, the physical mucilage is actually very poorly absorbed by the body, and certainly isn’t traveling through the blood to the kidneys. Rather, the ingestion of mucilage seems to promote a systemic moistening of tissues throughout the body, with some demulcents being more specific to particular organ systems.
–Jim McDonald, Herbalist
Colds and Flu
Marshmallow is a wonderful plant for the cold and flu season. It can soothe an inflamed sore throat. It stimulates phagocytosis, an important part of the immune system and it’s even used to moisten the lungs in cases of dry hot conditions, such as hot coughs with little to no expectoration. Recent scientific research has shown it to be a powerful anti-tussive herb as well. I commonly recommend it for post infection coughs – these are the ones keeping you awake at night long after the illness has passed.
Herbalists frequently use marshmallow for urinary problems such as cystitis, kidney stones, and bladder infections. Besides soothing the urinary tract it is also a diuretic, which can be of further aide in many urinary problems.
Marshmallow root is considered safe for everyone to use although it is recommended to be taken several hours after taking prescription medications as it may inhibit the absorption.
Marshmallow plant is specific for many common ailments, yet has a complexity that renders it useful for a myriad of problems. We hope you enjoy learning about marshmallow and are able to create a variety of herbal remedies from this versatile plant for the well-being of your family.