Althaea officinalis

Althaea officinalis

Highlighting a key herb in The Healer Balm

Althaea officinailis, Malvaceae

The latin name of Marshmallow tells us a little about the plant’s history. The genus name “Althaea” derives from Greek for “heal all,” while the species name “officinalis” indicated that this particular species of Marshmallow was the official herb used in the European apothecary. Marshmallow belongs to the botanical family Malvaceae, which contains many medicinal plants with a common trait of being soothing to irritated tissues such as hibiscus and linden.

The perfect remedy for dry, irritated mucous membranes, either internally or externally. Many herbalists use the leaves & flowers and roots interchangeably, understanding the root will have a more potent action (with up to 35% mucilage!). Both are demulcent, emollient, and diuretic. However the leaf & flower and roots do have slightly different specific indications. The root is indicated in cases of digestive mucosal irritation and is especially vulnerary when applied to the skin, whereas the leaf and flower are indicated for an irritated respiratory tract when a soothing expectorant is needed.

Native to the salt marshes of Europe and naturalized in wetlands across North America. When many of the plants on the herb farm were suffering from the endless rainfall of spring 2018, Marshmallow was thriving. Just like the environment it prefers, Marshmallow is a moistening herb.

Harvest aerial parts (leaves & flowers) on a sunny, dry day when the plant is in peak flower (summer - autumn). Harvest the roots in autumn after the aerial parts die back or in spring before they shoot back up. Marshmallow is a perennial plant, we usually harvest the roots in the second or third year of growth.

Medicine Making:
Marshmallow is one herb I do not tincture. The mucilaginous properties are mostly lost in alcohol, so I much prefer to dry the herb and use in teas, cold infusions, decoctions, and syrups.
Cold infusion (best method for extracting mucilage): Pour 8 oz cold water over about one tablespoon of dried root, leave overnight. drink in morning. adjust herb/water content to situation.
Decoction: Put a teaspoon of chopped root in water & boil 10-15 minutes. Drink 3 times a day.
Infusion: For an infusion of the leaf, pour 8 oz boiling water on 1-2 teaspoons of the dried leaf and let infuse for 10 minutes. Drink 3 times a day.
Syrup: Decoct roots, strain, allow to cool a little. add honey so the ratio is 1:1, honey to decoction. Stir until combined. Take by the teaspoon daily as an immune enhancing lung tonic. Lately I have been decocting Marshmallow, Elecampane, fresh Ginger, Anise seeds, and Licorice for the syrup recipe to use as an extra potent immune enhancing lung tonic. The syrup will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months.

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