Althaea officinalis L.
Characteristics of marshmallow
Common English Name: Marshmallow, Marsh mallow Canamera grass
Common name in other languages:
Photo of marshmallow leaves and flowers
Portuguese / Português:
Euskara: Malba zuria
French /Français: Guimauve sauvage /Mauve blanche
Italian /Italiano: Altea comune
German /Deutch: Echte Eibisch
Dutch /Nederlands: Echte heemst
Finnish /Suomi: Rohtosalkoruusu
Polish/Polski: Prawoślaz lekarski
Romanian/Română: Nalbă mare
Scientific name: Althaea officinalis L.
Habitat: It grows in most of Europe, in humid places hence its English name of Marsh mallow (Its name meaning a type of mallow that lives in marshes). It also appears in brackish seaside land in ditches and wet meadows.
Particularly abundant in the Caspian and Black Sea and the western Asian steppes where it looks like it comes from. It can also be found in North Africa and in the northeastern United States where it has been adapted after being imported as a garden plant.
Description of marshmallow
Botanical illustration of marshmallow
Perennial plant of the mallow family up to 2 m tall.
Simple or usually multiple, round and strong, annually renewable woody base stems which arise from a fibrous root, elongated cone-shaped, with white flesh inside and the outside yellowish, penetrating deep into the earth.
Lower leaves cordate, textured velvet, up to 7.5 cm long, short-stalked irregularly lobed; upper triangular.
Flowers showy pink or white, often white-pink, clustered in groups of up to 3 racemes, shortly stalked.
Fruit with a single seed.
Components of marshmallow
- Acids: ascorbic acid, butyric acid, ferulic, malvalic, chlorogenic (Ground), p-coumaric acid, syringic, caffeic, salicylic acid (leaves)
- Mucilage: (root and leaves)
- Paraffin (plant)
- Carbohydrates (root)
- Alkaloids: betaine (root)
- Amino acids: asparagine altheine = (root)
- Starch (root)
- Pectin (root)
- Fiber (root)
- Tannins (root)
- Lecithin (root)
- Vitamins: B vitamins: riboflavin, niacin, thiamin (root); beta-carotene (root) and vitamin C (root)
- Minerals: aluminium, calcium, cobalt, chromium, iron, magnesium, silicon, sodium (root)
- Alcohols: faradiol, taraxasterol, arnidiol, beta-sitosterol (Flower)
Curative traditional uses of marshmallow
Marshmallow is one of the most important emollient plants. This property is very useful to soften, protect and hydrate the skin mucous.
Its curative value results from the capacity of its components to prevent evaporation of water so that it makes a sort of layer or film on the skin which causes it to remain more hydrated. Paraffin, starch and mucilage are the major components that would provide this property.
Marshmallow is also one of the best demulcents, which are substances that are are able to relieve irritation of mucous membranes. The demulcent properties of this plant are granted by its richness in mucilage, pectin and sucrose.
Their sugar components, especially mucilage in contact with water, form a kind of protective paste, like jelly, that cures or prevents inflammation and relieves pain at the same time producing an environment where microorganisms can not thrive.
These properties have already been widely recognized over 2000 years ago by the wide use of this plant as well as medicinal plant for its nutritional properties.
Collection and preservation of marshmallow
The flowers and leaves of marshmallow must be harvested in spring or summer; the roots in autumn. The first should be dried in the shade and stored in airtight and clean containers. The roots are dried in the sun and must cut into small pieces and stored in the same conditions.
Other plants from the malvaceae family more or less similar to marshmallow
All mallows have, in general, the same medicinal properties. Of these the richest in mucilage is marshmallow which is most often used today for the richness of this component in its root.
Other similar mallows can be used with similar properties. In this case, instead of the roots, their flowers or leaves, or all they simultaneously, are used. There are numerous species of mallows. Among them, we can point out the following:
- Common mallow (Malva sylvestris) With properties similar to marshmallow though less intense. It can be considered as a substitute for this in places where marshmallow is difficult to find. The leaves and flowers are used since their roots lack the properties they own in marshmallow.
- Musk mallow (Malva moschata) It grows in most mountainous places especially in meadows with grazing cows. It is characterized by large pale pink flowers. When the plant is rubbed, it emits a characteristic musky odor. Its medicinal properties are similar to the above plants but less intense.
- Buttonweed (Malva rotundifolia = Malva neglecta): A much crabgrass not exceeding half a meter. With more rounded than common mallow and provided with 5lobed leaves. With whitish flowers smaller than the previous ones. It can be found at roadsides and in not plowed fields. The medicinal properties are similar to common mallow.
- Cornish mallow, Cretan hollyhock (Lavatera cretica) At first glance, it is similar to common mallow, although their flowers are clear pink with dark veins. It has the same properties as the other.
- Common hollyhock (Althaea rosea) native of Syria, it is cultivated in many warm places. Sometimes subspontaneous. It is characterized by its floriferous stem that can reach up to 2 m high and its divided leaves resembling those of the vine. Very large flowers, with colors that can vary from red to white, pink or purple.
In natural medicine, Red flowers are used primarily with similar properties to common mallow or marshmallow.
- Malva arborea, tree mallow (Lavatera arborea) is a shrub from Malvaceae family which can reach 3 meters height. It grows mainly in cliffs along the coast and is characterized by large dark pink flowers with almost black veins. Its leaves are used to make poultices to cure strains or shocks.
- Hibiscus (Hibiscus sp) There are many species of hibiscus, all very used in gardening because of their large flowers. Of these, the most common are common hibiscus (Hibiscus rosasinensis) and Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus). Both are used for hair and skin care, for respiratory problems and other physical problems.
More information on marshmallow.
8 July, 2019