marshmallow root infusion

marshmallow root infusion

As a backwoods biochemist, I am interested in many alternative and natural treatments. However, I am also of the opinion that one should not be so open-minded that one's brains fall out.

So when I look at an herbal treatment, the first step is finding out what has been used for a long time, because there's generally some empirical evidence that it's useful. But the second step is hitting the research literature to find out what solid scientific evidence is behind it. And the final step is figuring out how to practically incorporate it in my life; e.g. adding turmeric to my juice daily.

Having done the herbal and scientific research, I am extremely convinced that marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis L.) is a very useful herb. I prepare a cold infusion to maximize it's utility, which is incredibly easy to do.

Historical Use as Food & Medicine

Marshmallow root has been used as a food for a long time; it was particularly handy during famine since it was available when other vegetables were not, but it was also used as a gourmet ingredient in producing sweet desserts.

The root is what was used for the fluffy confection prior to the development of gelatin marshmallows; as such you'd be correct in expecting it to be somewhat slimy as well as sweet.

It was first written about as a medicine by Homer in the Iliad over 2,800 years ago. Marshmallow root spread from traditional Greek medicine to Arabia and India, where it became important in both the Ayurvedic and Unani traditions.

Western herbalists classify it a cooling and moistening herb thus useful for treating hot and dry conditions, such as a dry cough, hypertension or the side effects of chemotherapy.

Because marshmallow root is mucilaginous (slimy), when taken internally it is classified as a demulcent, i.e. an herb that forms a soothing film over the mucous membrane. When used externally, it is classified as an emollient, an herb that softens and soothes epithelial cells, and is used as such cosmetically as well as for treatment of sores, ulcers, burns, eczema and boils.

Marshmallow root is anti-inflammatory and if taken as an infusion, soothes the entire GI tract, from irritation of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa to inflammation of the gastric mucosa. It is a fantastic treatment for stomach inflammation, IBS symptoms and inflammatory bowel disease. In short, it's good for everything from mouth ulcers to hemorrhoids.

While much of it's effect can be understood due to the direct physical contact with mucilage, marshmallow root is also systemically anti-inflammatory. It is used as a lung treatment (for asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and other chest complaints) and helpful in treating urinary tract infections; thus it appears to have systemic effects beyond it's topical action.

Marshmallow root is also used to balance systemic fluid/salt issues, both to treat those with copious thirst and urination as well as those with no thirst who are dehydrated (though it appears marshmallow leaf may be more useful than the root).

Scientific Research

The root contains 37% starch, 11% mucilage (arabinogalactans and galacturonorhamnan), 11% pectin and smaller amounts of: sucrose, flavonoids (antioxidants 8-hydroxyluteolin and 8-b-gentiobioside), phenolic acids, coumarins, fats (including lauric acid), kaempferol, asparagine (amino acid associated with asparagus), quercetin (antioxidant usually associated with onions), tannins and volatile oil.

While not curative, much research shows it to be helpful in treating Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases. It's also soothing to stomach ulcers and treats simple indigestion.

A good bit of research shows marshmallow root is helpful with lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and the common cold.

There's lots of research showing marshmallow root is useful as a cough suppressant, in both human and animal models; the antitussive effects are more effective than any non-narcotic, though lesser than codeine.

Marshmallow root has been shown effective in various causes of skin inflammation and actually increases turnover of epithelial cells.

Marshmallow root has one of the strongest antioxidant effects of many herbs tested.

Marshmallow root stimulates the humoral immune response. Macrophages, which are the cells that kill and eat bacteria within tissue, show increase in both antibacterial (killing) and phagocytic (eating) activity with marshmallow root. The cells that perform the same function in blood and thus are recruited to sites of inflammatory damage are neutrophils, these also have higher phagocytic activity after ingestion of marshmallow root.

In addition to it's effects on the immune system, marshmallow has been shown to be directly antibacterial.

There's some new research that it is helpful in a rat model of Parkinson's disease, though whether that will translate to utility in Parkinson's disease in humans is unknown.

Practical Use

You don't want pills if you're taking it for GI issues; you need the gooeyness to coat your gut. Even if you have no obvious gut issues, since we are discovering that so many diseases from psychiatric problems to autoimmune conditions are rooted in the gut, I would pretty much recommend to everyone that you buy the dried root and make an infusion. You can get it from the link to the right. I'll make a few cents on your purchase if you buy though my link; thanks!

If you're worried about taste: don't. I am someone who has disliked every single herbal tea I have ever tried, but I can drink marshmallow root infusion. I'm not claiming to enjoy it as much as coffee, but I drink a shot of it several times a day. It's thin enough that it doesn't feel slimy going down, and it basically tastes like a lightly sweetened cinnamon-flavored tea.

side effects

Because it coats the GI tract, marshmallow root can interfere with absorption. Thus it should not be taken with medications. It also may lower bG if taken with meals for similar reasons, so watch your insulin dose if you're diabetic.

Because it contains asparagine, it may have similar but lesser effects as does asparagus on urinary odor.

However, as a food, it's pretty non-toxic stuff; marshmallow root is pretty darned safe stuff to use overall.

marshmallow root infusion recipe

Making a decoction (a heated extraction) maximizes the starch extracted from the root; thus I prefer to make a cold infusion, which maximizes the mucilage.

It's amazingly easy to make an infusion:

  1. Measure 3/4 cup marshmallow root and about 1/4 cup of cinnamon sticks into a quart jar. Hint: label the jar with the proportions so you have the recipe handy.
  2. Fill the jar with cold water, cover and leave at room temperature for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  3. Strain into a second jar.
  4. Optionally, stir in 2 TB raw honey (the infusion is already lightly sweetened, so this isn't necessary).
  5. Label and refrigerate.

If you need more details, check out this video:

Health Benefits of Marshmallow Root Herbal Tea



Althaea officinalis from Wikipedia

Marshmallow Root from Mountain Rose Herbs

Herbal Properties and Actions from

Mallow, Marsh from a Modern Herbal

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Disclosure: Affiliate