Marshmallow root is not exactly the kind of thing you buy on impulse, like fair-trade chocolate or a “Because Kids” wine glass. It’s the kind of herb that’s picked up for something specific, like homemade hair detangler or a sore throat spray. Once you have it in your pantry, though, you might be wondering what else it’s good for.
The answer? A LOT.
So, what is marshmallow root?
Before they were campfire treats, marshmallows were made by boiling marshmallow root with honey to soothe sore throats and upset stomachs. That’s because marshmallow root – whose Greek name althea literally means “to heal” – contains a polysaccharide which “provides a protective, soothing coating to mucosa.” (Botanical Medicine For Women’s Health, Dr. Aviva Romm)
What can you do with marshmallow root?
This herb is available both as a powder and finely chopped root pieces. When mixed with water, it forms a mucilaginous (gel-like) consistency that soothes throat, digestive tract, and urinary tract irritation, and is also traditionally used externally as a poultice for minor burns and wounds. When taken internally, it’s usually consumed as a cold infusion or hot tea. Externally, the whole ground herb can be applied as a poultice, or just the gel can be used.
Below we’ll discuss more ways it can benefit specific situations, plus safety considerations and how to make a cold infusion, tea, and poultice.
1. Heartburn (Even Pregnancy Heartburn)
According to renowned herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, “The best herbs to use for treating heartburn are those that calm the nervous system and are good digestive nervines, such as chamomile, hops and lemon balm. Mucilaginous herbs, such as marshmallow, licorice, and slippery elm, will soothe the irritated stomach lining.” (Herbal Recipe For Vibrant Health)
Although a similar herb that can help with indigestion – slippery elm – is available in pre-made lozenge form, marshmallow root is typically “prepared as an infusion, and sipped on as needed throughout the day or during an acute period of heartburn.” (Romm, 364) You’ll find instructions for making a marshmallow root infusion below.
Also, since chamomile is mentioned, I wanted to mention that Urban Moonshine has created a version of Swedish Bitters that is safe to use during pregnancy. Their Chamomile Bitters formula is helpful for easing occasional heartburn and morning sickness, and it’s free of the herbs you need to avoid during pregnancy. You can find it here.
2. Sore Throat And Stomach Ache
Because of it’s ability to coat irritated mucous membranes, marshmallow root is often used to soothe sore throats and upset stomachs. It can be consumed as a hot tea or cold infusion – instructions for making both are listed below.
3. Improve Gut Health
Along with bone broth, gelatin and fermented foods, mucilaginous herbs such as marshmallow root are sometimes consumed as a tea or cold infusion to improve gut lining integrity. (Cole)
4. UTI Support
In this article, Dr. Aviva Romm – who is also a midwife and herbalist – recommends marshmallow root as part of a natural approach to bladder infections.
5. Marshmallow Root As A Galactogogue
As stated so eloquently by Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Tipper Gallagher here, it’s always important to seek to address underlying issues if breast milk supply is a concern. However, as Gallagher discuesses there are circumstances in which galactogogues can be very helpful, and marshmallow root tea (or infusion) is a good one to consider.
Mucilaginous herbs have long been used for their nutritive properties and to increase breast milk supply. Oats and barley are foods traditionally given to new mothers both as porridge and barley in stew. They are safe for daily consumption in food quantities. Marshmallow root is considered a safe herb when used as recommended. It is typically included in galactogogue infusions. There are no known contraindications to the use of marshmallow root; however, the absorption of other medications taken simultaneously might be inhibited by marshmallow root.” (Botanical Medicine For Women’s Health, Dr. Aviva Romm, 454)
7. Minor Burns, Wounds, And Insect Bites
According to dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Howe, “Traditionally, MRE has been used to treat skin burns and insect bites.” (Barrionuevo) That’s because when applied topically, the mucilage from marshmallow root “dries as a mild adhesive and can be used as an herbal bandage for minor wounds.” (Shenefelt)
How To Make A Cold Marshmallow Root Infusion
Marshmallow root is rich in both polysaccharides and starch. When made using the cold infusion method, the healing polysaccharides are the primary component that gets extracted. A decoction (hot water extraction) extracts both.
To make a cold water infusion, fill a jar 1/4 of the way full with cut and sifted marshmallow root, then fill the rest of the jar with warm purified water and allow infusion to sit for 4-12 hours. Strain and serve.
Marshmallow Root Tea Recipe
I’ll be sharing my favorite recipe for marshmallow root tea and other herbs later this week, but for now here’s a super simple recipe:
- 1.5 cups water
- 1 tablespoon cut and sifted marshmallow root
Instructions: Bring water and marshmallow to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain with a mesh strainer or cheesecloth, and sweeten if desired before serving.
How To Make A Marshmallow Root Poultice
Make a paste using powdered marshmallow root and very hot water. Apply to the area once it has cooled a little and cover with a cloth or bandage.
Is Marshmallow Root Safe During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding?
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd edition, marshmallow is a Safety Class 1A herb – the safest rating possible. It is described as:
“Herbs that can be safely consumed when used appropriately.
- History of safe traditional use
- No case reports of significant adverse events with high probability of causality
- No significant adverse events in clinical trials
- No identified concerns for use during pregnancy or lactation
- No innately toxic constituents
- Toxicity associated with excessive use is not a basis for exclusion from this class
- Minor or self-limiting side effects are not bases for exclusion from this class”
Always check with your doctor before adding herbs to your diet, and listen to your intuition to help you make the best choice for yourself.
Marshmallow Root Contraindications
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd edition, medications “should be taken 1 hour prior to consumption of marshmallow or several hours after consumption, as marshmallow may slow the absorption of orally administered drugs.”
What’s your favorite use for marshmallow root?
Please tell me in the comment section below!