Marshmallow roots

Marshmallow roots | Depositphotos 288979012 l 2015
Medicinal plant althaea officinalis

Many people think of “marshmallow” as the pink or white candy toasted over a campfire. But marshmallow is a herb – one with a long history of medicinal use.  

Marshmallow root has featured in traditional medicine since Greek and Egyptian times. Even Homer’s Iliad mentions the benefits of this “slippery” herb in treating various respiratory ills1. It’s also known as Malvavisco, Althea, Khatmah, Usubeni-tatiaoi, Khitmi, Iviscus, and Ghasul. 

Besides its medicinal benefits, Marshmallow is renowned as a smokeable herb, whether alone or combined with marijuana. It’s often used as a base for most herbal mixtures.

History

Marshmallow’s therapeutic uses can be traced back to early Europe. Its botanical name, Althaea officinalis, refers to ‘althos’: Greek for ‘healer’.2

The name marshmallow, however, refers to its preference for growing in marshes and other damp areas throughout Europe, North Africa, and Asia.

Romans and Egyptians ate marshmallow as a vegetable on a daily basis, as did the poor in Syria to prevent starvation. 

Later, Marshmallow was believed to have magical properties that gave psychic abilities to those who burned the plant and used it as incense. 

Medicinal benefits

Marshmallow works as a mucilage: a thick, gooey substance that has a soothing effect on membranes.3 Many ancient texts note that marshmallow root provides a variety of benefits from healing the respiratory tract to reducing hypertension. Hippocrates used marshmallow for healing wounds, while other practitioners have also used it for soothing coughs and colds, and treating skin irritations. 

In Ayurveda, the moistening and cooling benefits of marshmallow root were often used to boost kapha (wet constitution type) and reduce vata (dry type). 

Soothes sore throat and eases chest congestion

As a mucilage, marshmallow harbors important antitussive properties that help to reduce irritation of the throat, reduce swelling in the lymph nodes, and reduce aggravation from coughing. Marshmallow extract is often included in natural cough syrups and throat lozenges and has long been used to treat pertussis (whooping cough) and bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchial tubes).4

Treats bacterial infections

Studies show that marshmallow contains flavonoids which harbor both anti-inflammatory and phagocytic properties. This makes it effective in treating the bacteria that causes respiratory infections such as tonsillitis or bronchitis. It may also speed the healing process of urinary tract infections by increasing the flow of urine.

Supporting the digestive tract 

The mucilage of marshmallow root may be helpful in restoring the integrity of the gut lining, which makes it beneficial for digestive disorders such as leaky gut syndrome or inflammatory bowel diseases.
It also improves peristalsis in the gut to facilitate proper digestion, and may reduce heartburn, stomach ulcer symptoms, diarrhea and constipation.

Promoting mild relaxation

Marshmallow root is a known psychoactive herb when smoked. It makes for a smooth, fragrant smoke when burning, and can be used as a base for herbal blends such as mullein and damiana. It’s often promoted as helpful for those trying to quit cigarette smoking and can be included in herbal smoking blends.

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Method of use / dosage

Marshmallow root is most often used as an active ingredient in teas, dietary supplements, and pharmaceutical medications.

  • A tea or gargle of marshmallow root is especially helpful in soothing an irritated throat. It’s also reported to support weight loss by creating a feeling of fullness. To make the tea, simply combine a teaspoonful of the dried root with other herbs (such as peppermint) and steep in boiling water for a few hours or overnight. A gargle can be made by mixing 2 grams of dried root with cold water and allowing it to absorb for 2 hours. Gargle twice a day to treat a sore throat or cough.
  • Topical formulations such as lotions and salves can be used to treat wounds, cuts, and other skin irritations such as psoriasis and eczema. Soak the peeled root in warm water and mix into a paste then apply directly to the skin. 
  • When smoked, marshmallow root can be used to reduce the amount of tobacco or marijuana in a joint. Some users claim that if you find damiana too harsh to be smoked on its own, it can be blended with marshmallow.

Effects of smoking marshmallow root

When smoked alone, marshmallow has a relaxing effect on the body and mind. Although the effect is more mild than herbs such as skullcap or wild dagga flowers, it is helpful for promoting a calm state of mind.

The relaxing effect is said to help wean cigarette smokers off nicotine addiction while offering a pleasant flavor.

Some sources claim that marshmallow contains ephedrine, which is a category 1 precursor and stimulant. It is classified as a CNS depressant and stimulant, which makes it a natural “pick-me-up”. It’s also said to help reduce stress and provide mild hypnotic and sedative effects.5

In some alternative circles, marshmallow is recommended to aid spiritual healing and summon benevolent spirits. Some say that keeping a jar of dried marshmallow root next to a bowl of water and candles will bring helpful spirits. Combining marshmallow with Myrrh, Frankincense, Copal or Benzoin is believed to be particularly appealing to the spirits.6

Side Effects

Although the reported side-effects of ingesting or smoking marshmallow are minimal, some minor precautions should be taken before using it. 

  • Marshmallow may interact with certain pharmaceutical drugs, particularly medications used for stabilizing the blood sugar (such as oral hypoglycemics). In some people, it may also cause low blood sugar levels. 7
  • Marshmallow root can promote milk production in high doses, which may affect normal stimulation of the mammary gland and cause some hormonal changes in the body.

Legal status

There are no reported cases of toxicity for using marshmallow root. Furthermore, there are limited resources that could involve the marshmallow roots for legal implications. It is currently legal everywhere.

Sources / References

1. Marshmallow. [website]. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.whiterabbitinstituteofhealing.com/herbs/marshmallow/

2. CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names. [book]. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://books.google.co.nz/books?id=-37OBQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

3. Marshmallow. [website]. Accessed June 11, 2020. https://herbs.org.nz/marshmallow/

4. Development and Evaluation of Novel Lozenges Containing Marshmallow Root Extract. [research paper]. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24191313/

5. Psychoactive Substances: A guide to Ethnobotanical Plants and Herbs, Synthetic Chemicals, Compounds and Products. [research paper]. Accessed June 10, 2020. http://www.drugs.ie/resourcesfiles/guides/Psychoactive_substances_low_res.pdf

6. Marshmallow root. [website]. Accessed June 12, 2020. https://alchemy-arts.com/product/marshmallow-root/

7. Marshmallow. [website]. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.rxlist.com/marshmallow/supplements.htm