Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) is a perennial flowering plant that can be found wild in moist, damp places. It grows to a height of 3 to 4 feet high and has a hairy, soft, branched stem. The leaves are also hairy and have been compared to those of a maple leaf; for shape. Flowers range in color from white, to whitish-pink and they bloom in late summer.
Marshmallow has many names including althea, sweet weed, hock herb, mallards, mortification plant, schloss tea, wymote, mallow, white mallow, guimauve, and common marshmallow.
The Magic of Mucilage
Mucilage (myōō´səlĬj) is a thick, glutinous substance, comprised of protein, polysaccharides, and uranides. It is found in various plants, including marshmallow and also in seaweed. It can swell but will not dissolve in water. Those plants which have levels of mucilage use it to conserve water to later aid in germination, to facilitate seed dispersal, and to store food. It is used in natural medicine as an emollient and a demulcent.
Mucilage, from the marshmallow roots, was originally used to thicken marshmallows; these days gelatin is used instead.
Growing, Harvesting, and Storing Marshmallow
Marshmallow plants prefer moist to wet soil and grow well in full sun to partial shade. They are perennial and quite hardy, able to survive down to USDA zone 3.
Marshmallow seeds require cold stratification for good germination. Basically this means they need cold, moist temperatures to mimic winter conditions. It also acts as a safeguard to keep the seeds from germinating in the late summer. The cold, followed by steady warming tells the seeds that winter has passed, and it’s time to grow. Seeds can also be sown directly into the ground in early fall, for the following year.
Marshmallow can also be propagated by root cuttings.
More information on growing this plant can be found here.
Health Benefits of Marshmallow
The root of this plant, especially, has a very long history in natural medicine. It dates back to ancient Greece where it was used to treat coughing and respiratory issues and is still used for treating cough and colds today. It also is used to boost the immune system, reduces water retention, and as a sore throat remedy.
This herb is recommended for those who suffer from tonsillitis, bronchitis, respiratory, or urinary tract infections. It helps speed up the healing process and naturally kills bacteria that can cause other ailments.
Marshmallow root helps the body to promote optimal levels of HDL, or good cholesterol. Anti-lipdemic and anti-ulcer properties of the marshmallow root also help to reduce the production of LDL or the bad guy.
Topically marshmallow root is used for skin infections and to treat burns.
Look for Our Always-Growing List of Herbs at this Link.