Updated: Jun 8
By: Kelley Garrison, ND
The Healing Qualities of Marshmallow Root and Leaf
When you hear "marshmallow" you likely think of the soft sugar pillow treat, but did you know that there is a marshmallow plant that has a host of medicinal properties? Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) is an herbaceous perennial plant that grows up to four feet tall with large soft leaves and pale pink flowers that bees love to seek out. Marshmallow is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia and has been traditionally used both as medicine and as food in these regions.
Both its roots and its leaves can be used medicinally, producing a viscous mucilage (aka goop) when infused in water. This mucilage along with polysaccharides, tannins, and flavonoids make Marshmallow a friend to the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and the bladder. Marshmallow is a demulcent, meaning it helps to build up the protective mucosal layer in the gut. It also is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, nutritive, and is a form of soluble fiber (read: helps with bowel movements). All these actions make it an ideal herb for inflammation in the gut, helping soothe symptoms of heartburn, indigestion, and constipation. It is also useful for respiratory irritations such as acute and chronic coughs due to its expectorant actions and sore throats due to its demulcent properties. The same soothing qualities that affect the GI tract also apply to the bladder and urinary tract as well and so can be a helpful adjunct for UTIs and interstitial cystitis.
Making a Marshmallow Cold Infusion
Unlike many herbs, marshmallow is best taken as a cold infusion rather than as a hot tea. The cold water helps bring out the mucilaginous constituents as well as the minerals. Making a cold infusion is easy, it just needs a lot more time to "brew" than a traditionally tea.
Generally, to make a cold infusion you'll want to add about 1-2 tablespoons of dried herb (more if using fresh) to about 1 quart of cold water. Both the leaf and the root work well, but often it is easier to find the root at herbal stores. Put a lid on your jar and set it aside for at least 6 hours, or just keep it in the fridge overnight. You can either strain out the herb or just drink it as is, as most of the root will settle to the bottom. Drink as needed throughout the day. You can store any leftovers in the fridge and it should keep for at least 3-4 days. For ease, I tend to make a big batch all at once and then drink over the course of a few days rather than make a new batch daily. For flavor, consider adding cinnamon or cardamom.
*As with all herbs, use with caution and seek out your local ND or clinical herbalist for guidance. Some folks who have SIBO don't do well with marshmallow root and leaf as it is a polysaccharide. It is best taken away from medications as it could theoretically interfere with absorption.
If you want to see the process in action, check out my first ever reel on Instagram @foothills_naturopathic
Enjoy the goop!