Although most people associate it with a white, puffy treat eaten around a campfire, marshmallow is actually a medicinal plant with many health benefits.
Marshmallow root has been used for centuries because of its benefits for soothing inflammation and calming digestion. It was actually the original ingredient in marshmallows (before being replaced by gelatin) and is still widely used by herbalists today.
Here's more about marshmallow root, its benefits, and how to use it.
What Is Marshmallow Root?
Originally native to Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa, marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) is a perennial herb that grows in marshy, damp areas (hence its name). It belongs to the mallow family which also includes plants like hollyhocks and okra.
The leaves and flowers of the plant can be used medicinally, but the root is the part most often used by herbalists.
Apart from medicinal uses, marshmallow root was also eaten as a vegetable by the ancient Romans and Greeks. The French were the ones to first turn it into a sweet confection. (Gladstar. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide, pg. 166)
It has been valued medicinally for centuries because of its mucilaginous and soothing properties.
Here's more about the medicinal benefits of marshmallow root.
Soothes Respiratory System
Many of the benefits of marshmallow root come from its high mucilage content.
Mucilaginous means that it forms a thicker, gelatinous substance when it comes into contact with water. This makes marshmallow ideal for soothing inflamed tissues.
Marshmallow root can help to heal an irritated and inflamed respiratory system and can be an effective natural cough remedy. (1)
It's most often used by herbalists for dry coughs because it helps to moisturize and soothe the lungs, throat, and mouth.
But marshmallow can also help to loosen mucous and relieve coughs coming from a cold or bronchitis. (2)
Marshmallow extract is a main ingredient in many different natural cough syrups and lozenges and is ideal for soothing a sore throat.
It can be even more effective when combined with other herbs like slippery elm and mullein.
For coughs, sore throat, and chest congestion, try marshmallow root in this herbal Respiratory Relief Tea.
Soothes Digestive Tract
Marshmallow root's mucilaginous properties also give it lots of benefits for the digestive tract. (3)
It can help calm an irritated digestive tract, soothe irritation and inflammation in the bowel, and also neutralize excess stomach acid. (Gladstar, pg. 167)
Marshmallow has traditionally been used for a wide range of issues including constipation, heartburn, diarrhea, colic, and stomach ulcers.
Some research indicates that marshmallow root can be especially beneficial for treating ulcers. (4)
To use marshmallow root for indigestion, the best way is to take it as a tea. A liquid extract of marshmallow can also be effective.
Healing and Soothing for Skin
Marshmallow root can also be used externally with many benefits for skin.
Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, marshmallow has been shown to help calm and heal skin irritations including eczema and dermatitis. (5)
Marshmallow root's mucilage content also makes it extremely helpful for soothing dry, itchy, and irritated skin.
It can also be applied to wounds, cuts, burns, and bites to speed healing and calm inflammation.
For external use, a paste can be made using marshmallow root powder and water. Apply directly to the affected area.
You can also use a cream, ointment, or other skincare product with marshmallow root as a key ingredient.
Beneficial for Breast Milk Supply
Many women who would like to breastfeed but have a low milk supply prefer to try natural remedies to increase their supply.
Herbal galactagogues are specific herbs that can increase breast milk supply and are often very effective.
While marshmallow root isn't used on its own as an herbal galactagogue, it is often combined with other herbs that boost breastmilk supply to increase their effects.
It's usually added to herbal formulas containing galactogogues like fenugreek, blessed thistle, alfalfa, fennel seed, or goats rue.
Marshmallow root is also a very nutritive herb because of its high mucilage and starch content. It contains important nutrients like calcium, beta-carotene, and vitamin B and is thought to enrich breast milk as well as helping with supply. (Gladstar, pg. 167)
To increase breast milk supply naturally, try taking marshmallow root with other herbal galactagogues in these Dairy Diva capsules.
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory
Marshmallow root has been found to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which explains why it is such a healing herb for irritated and inflamed tissues. (4)
The antioxidants in marshmallow can help to protect against certain diseases cause by damage from free radicals.
Its anti-inflammatory properties are especially protective of the heart. Marshmallow also appears to raise good HDL cholesterol levels when taken for a length of time, further promoting heart health. (4)
Bladder and Kidney Health
Marshmallow root has benefits for the bladder and kidneys due to its soothing properties. (6) It's often included in herbal treatments for kidney and bladder infections.
Marshmallow can also have a diuretic effect, which means that it helps the body to flush out excess fluid.
Diuretics help to cleanse the kidney and bladder of toxins and relieve water retention.
Getting the Benefits of Marshmallow Root
Marshmallow root is available in many different forms.
When using it for a sore throat or cough, it's best to use marshmallow in a tea, cough syrup, or lozenge so that it can come into contact with the irritated tissues.
A tea or liquid extract is also the best choice for using it to soothe digestion.
There are two ways to make a tea with dried marshmallow root:
- Use 2-3 teaspoons of dried marshmallow root per cup of boiling water.
- Pour the boiling water over the herbs and let it steep 15-30 minutes.
- Strain out the herbs and sweeten if you like.
- Drink 2-3 cups per day or as needed.
A cold infusion of marshmallow root keeps more of it mucilaginous properties intact and can be especially beneficial for digestion.
- Add 1 cup of warm (not hot or boiling) water to a glass jar along with 2-3 teaspoons of dried marshmallow root.
- Shake or stir to combine, put the lid on, and refrigerate overnight.
- Strain out the herbs and sweeten if desired.
Marshmallow root is also available in capsules and as a powder.
If you'd like to use it for increasing breast milk supply, try it in an herbal formula like this one.
Side Effects and Precautions
Marshmallow root is one of the safest herbs to use and comes with few side effects.
Occasionally, it can cause an upset stomach or allergic reaction.
Because marshmallow's molecules swell on contact with water (giving it a gel-like consistency), it's recommended to take marshmallow root with at least 8 oz. of water.
Marshmallow also coats the lining of the stomach and may interfere with the absorption of other drugs. It's best to take marshmallow root a few hours before or after medication or supplements.
It can also interact with diabetes medication and should be stopped 2 weeks prior to any surgery.
Discover the Benefits of Marshmallow Root
Marshmallow root is a very safe and benevolent herb with a long history of use because of its many health benefits.
You can use it for respiratory relief, a sore throat, digestive issues, and to soothe irritated skin.
Discover its benefits for yourself and try out the original marshmallow ingredient.