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The Medicinal Properties of Marshmallow Root or Althea Officianalis

The Medicinal Properties of Marshmallow Root or Althea Officianalis

The Medicinal Properties of Althea Officinalis

By Heather Caruso B.Sc., Hom, ROHP/RNCP

   Althea Officinalis, Marshmallow Root, is a herb that has been used for over 2000 years, in ancient Egyptian, Arabian, Grecian and Roman cultures. It grows in marshy areas and bears pretty pale pink flowers that look smaller but similar to hibiscus flowers. It’s root is used to provide relief for irritations, internally and externally, sooth and moisten mucous membranes (aka linings) of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tract. Althea officinalis aids the body in expelling excessive fluid and mucous and is a useful poultice for wounds and burns. This plant has been used in for centuries in our food, drinks and cosmetics. Approximately 35% of Marshmallow Root contains mucilage, which acts to coat irritated linings of the body. It acts like a natural barrier or soothing mucous in a way. It also contains flavonoid antioxidants, healing amino acids like asparagine, polysaccharides like pectin and a variety of antiviral, antibacterial and anti-mucilaginous compounds like coumarin, kaempferol, phenolic acids, quercetin and tannins.

   Althea officinalis is useful in dry coughs and laryngitis. It is not great for wet mucousy coughs, but is for the type that are sore and dry. Its medicinal properties work to create a soothing barrier for dry and raw linings of the throat and/or lungs. It also increases immune cells called macrophages that surround and eat infectious viruses or bacteria. Althea is often combined in herbal cough syrups with echinacea, slippery elm, lemon and oregano. Althea helps reduce swollen lymph nodes during an infection. It also helps to increase saliva which helps soothe dry sore throats. Thus it may be good in conditions like Sjorgren’s syndrome or other problems with saliva production due to medication use or radiation therapy.

   Bladder and kidney infections as well as kidney stones with burning and discomfort may benefit from the use of Althea officinalis. It helps with swelling, burning and tenderness and helps to fight infection. This herb is very useful in both Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and peptic ulcers. The root contains a polysaccharide that helps to form a protective layer on the stomach lining and lowers acid levels. It also protects this lining from acidity. Thus marshmallow root can also help to restore the gut lining by forming a protective layer around small junctions which makes it helpful in leaky gut syndrome. It is also used for heartburn symptoms because it protects the stomach from acidity, soothes and coats by creating a healing mucous barrier. It reduces the burning stomach in heartburn. It can also be used to help with constipation due to its high mucilage content.

     Althea officinalis helps with skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and mastitis (blocked breast milk duct). Many herbalist use it topically to help with these and other conditions like insect bites, wounds, burned and chapped skin. It helps to form a soothing protective layer on the skin and interferes with hormones that cause inflammation.

     This herb is known to reduce water retention. It can help with PMS water retention, stomach bloating and edema similar to a water pill. Marshmallow root will help to increase urination and reduce swelling.

     Marshmallow root comes in capsule, tincture and tea form. Those with stomach ulcers, Crohn’s of colitis, should avoid the alcohol tincture or put it in hot water to try and let some of the alcohol dissipate. Japanese researchers have found that Althea off root can lower blood sugar when injected, thus there is a warning for diabetics. However, no research has been found on ingesting the teas or tinctures or applying the herb topically. Because marshmallow root coats the stomach, it could potentially limit the absorption of other drugs. Thus take marshmallow six hours before or after taking other medication.

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