Benefits of Marshmallow Plants- Althaea Officinalis January 18 2017
Greetings all! I am writing the Herb Blurb column this year for Equine Wellness Magazine, one of the largest publications in North America focused on natural and alternative therapies for horses. This is my first publication from their Feb/Mar 2017 issue- I will be posting all of them here. Be sure to check out their great magazine!
S’mores for horses anyone? Just kidding… although today’s standard marshmallows don’t include any althaea officinalis, they once did include a mixture of sugar, egg whites, and ground marshmallow root. Known for the mucilage that is contained in its leaves and roots that has emollient and demulcent properties, Marshmallow is more than a sweet campfire treat; it is also an effective treatment for digestive ulcers, urinary tract irritations, and respiratory issues.
The Marshmallow plant can be identified by its wide, fan-like leaves and light pink flowers and grows in 3-4 foot stalks. A perennial native to Europe, Western Asia and North Africa, it typically likes to grow in damp areas near rivers, lakes, and the sea- hence the Marsh Mallow. The generic name, Althaea, was derived from the greek word, ‘alteho’, which unsurprisingly means to heal or cure.
Mallow was a common dish in Rome, Syria, China and Egypt, where it was made into sweet delicacies, boiled and fried with other vegetables, and a general foodstuff in times of scarcity. The first known use of the plant in a confection similar to today’s marshmallows was in France around 1850.
Plant Parts and Uses
The root and the leaves both have mucilage, a gel like substance with medicinal properties. The leaves are generally suggested for use as a respiratory treatment, due to its exportant qualities, and especially effective for dry coughs and irritated airways. The root is most commonly used for digestive upset, due to the higher content of mucilage in this part of the plant that soothes both irritation and inflammation.
You can also use ground root topically to form a poultice or tea from leaves that provides effective relief from irritated skin as a result of insect bites and lacerations.
Leaves should be harvested in the summer, after flowers have bloomed. Roots should be harvested in late fall, when they yield the highest mucilage content, just before the ground freezes.
Most Common Uses for Horses
Marshmallow root is a great treatment and preventative for gastric ulcers in horses. Add three teaspoons of marshmallow root powder or a 1/4 cup of root pieces to your horse’s feed daily.
Marshmallow leaves can be used to make a tea or tincture as a topical skin treatment or to assist with respiratory issues.
Marshmallows can be relatively easy to grow, as long as you have very wet soil with full sun and cool weather. It is easily grown from cuttings or can be grown from the seed. Also, it can be a nice addition to any ornamental garden, with its lovely shaped leaves and white or light pink flowers that attract butterflies. Marshmallow thrives in boggy, wet, and mulched and weeded soil.