Althaea officinalis

Edible Parts The scientific name for marshmallow is Althaea officinalis, which comes from its ancient uses. Althos in Greek means to heal, and the plant was called "the official healer." Besides using it in medicine, both the Romans and the Egyptians ate the root as a vegetable. Althaea is an erect perennial herb, reaching a height of up to 150cm, with stalked, three- to five-lobed pale green velvety leaves densely clothed with stellate grey hairs. In the first year it grows a non-flowering stem. The pale pink to white flowers appear from June to September in the second year. Red united stamens grow on short stalks in the upper axils. The sepals are ovate, curving over the hairy fruit. The petals are 15-20mm long, sometimes shallowly notched, with purplish anthers. Althaea’s original habitat was in salty marshes or wet, brackish uncultivated ground in southern Europe, but it is now established throughout southern Britain and Europe, Australia and eastern North America. It is cultivated in Belgium, France and Germany.

Medicinal - When it comes to the skin, marshmallow has been used to treat abscesses, boils, varicose veins, ulcers, inflammations of the mouth and throat, inflamed hemorrhoids, wounds, burns, scalds, and bedsores. One of the most famous uses for marshmallow is in "drawing creme," so-called because when a paste of marshmallow and slippery elm is applied to a splinter, thorn, or even a bee stinger, the creme will almost miraculously draw out the offending item and speed the wound's healing.

The fresh leaves, steeped in hot water, and applied to the affected parts as poultices, also any place where stung by wasps or bees take away the pain, inflammation, and swelling. Pliny stated that the green leaves, beaten with nitre and applied drew out thorns and prickles in the flesh.

Early herbalists felt that marshmallow not only relieved pain, but also sped the healing process. During Gerard’s day, people with fresh wounds that refused to heal were treated with marshmallow to good effect. The same it true today.

Parts used:

Root and leaf. The flowers may be used to make expectorant syrups.


The leaves are collected in summer during the flowering period. The root is unearthed in late autumn from plants which are at least two years old; it  should be cleaned of root fibres and cork and dried immediately.


Root: 15-20% mucilage (consisting largely of xylan and glucoseans), flavonoid glycosides, phenolic acids, tannins, up to 11% pectin, asparagin, up to 38% starch, polysaccharides, phytosterols, fatty acid esters and a lecithin. Leaves: up to 10% mucilage, flavonoids, traces of an essential oil


History - Marshmallow was described by Dioscorides 2,000 years age, so we are fairly safe in saying that it has been used in domestic medicine from the earliest periods. During the eighth century A.D., Charlemagne demanded that it be cultivated in his domain due to its healing capacity. He did this not necessarily for humanitarian reasons. Charlemagne kept an army of soldiers pretty busy, and he liked to get them back in action as soon as possible after they were wounded. Marshmallow grows throughout Europe, Asia Minor, and western and northern Asia, and is used to heal the skin everywhere it is found.

If you have a wound that won't heal, a wound that you want to heal quickly, or a patch of skin that is giving you a problem, laying some marshmallow on it will get the healing process going. Grieve also said this about the plant: "The powdered or crushed fresh root make a good poultice that will remove the most obstinate inflammation and prevent mortification. Its efficacy in this direction has earned its name of mortification root." What a lovely name, "rotting flesh root!" Well, the realities of life aren’t all the pretty powerful attributes of the plant: when it was laid on a wound, it prevented gangrene.

Marshmallow has received a fair amount of attention from the scientific research community. At one time, it was thought that the slimy leaves and root soothed irritated tissue by placing a protective coating over it. The idea was that the action of the plant was purely physical in the same way that putting a Band-Aid on a cut protects it but doesn’t really do anything to speed the healing or stop the pain. Increasing evidence now suggests there is more to marshmallow’s action than that. Marshmallow’s actions as both an anti-inflammatory and healing agent are well documented. With a little more research, we may find what specifically in the plant does the trick.

There is some argument as to which is the most healing part of the plant, the root or the leaf, and I am in the leaf camp. I believe that whenever you want to heal a section of skin, the best thing to do is to apply marshmallow leaf to it. If you have the plant growing in the garden, you can pick a few leaves, grind them up, and apply the ground leaf directly to the wound. You can also use dried leaves or make a marshmallow creme by adding one teaspoon of marshmallow tincture to one teaspoon of common hand creme. Put a dab on the inside of a Band-Aid and cover the injured area with it. The idea is that you want to keep the creme on the wound site for a while. Band-Aids should always be changed every six hours or so. Remember to keep an eye open for infection, and don’t be shy about consulting a health-care professional when in doubt.


Apply the creme liberally and often, put the tincture in the bath, use as much of it as you can! A quarter of a cup of the tincture added to a hot bath will do wonders. You can also use the tincture directly on the skin. If your problem area is small, it could pay to put some creme on a Band-Aid to keep the wound or sore covered in creme for maximum healing.

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