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Exploring the Therapeutic Powers of Marshmallow Root

Exploring the Therapeutic Powers of Marshmallow Root

When you hear marshmallow root, do you immediately think of the roasted campfire classic treat? No doubt, the contemporary iteration of fluffy, sweet marshmallows is quite different, but its historical roots were in fact from this medicinal root.

Marshmallow root is the root of the European Marsh Mallow plant (Althaea officinalis) and has a therapeutic history that traces all the way back to ancient Egyptian times, around 4000 years ago! Despite its long history, there is very little contemporary research around this time-tested plant, commonly used herb.

In this ingredient spotlight, we’ll explore the historical and contemporary usage of marshmallow root, its most important chemical properties, and tips on incorporating it into your wellness routine! 

You’ll find that this powerful plant works wonders for soothing the gut and other tissues in the body. If there’s something we need more of in this world, it’s healing and calming of the pivotal and delicate membranes in our digestive tract. Hands down, this is one of my favorite, go-to herbs for supporting gut health in these ways.

The Time-Tested History of Marshmallow Root

Marshmallow root is another one of those time-tested products of nature that has profound roots in ancient times. The earliest reference made is from an ancient Egyptian recipe describing marshmallow’s sticky sap being mixed with honey and nuts. It’s also referred to in Homer’s Iliad as an herb that remedies cough, sore throat, and congestion. And it’s a part of the pharmacopeia of Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Throughout history, the sap was used for its soothing properties. It was given to calm irritation of the digestive and respiratory tracts. Its form remained relatively unchanged straight from the plant until about the 1800’s, when French confectioners added sugar to the root’s sap and spun it into a form more closely resembling the fluffy marshmallows you might buy today. 

It wasn’t until about the 1940’s, with the rise of industry, that the marshmallow root itself was replaced. The herbal products were difficult to source and the medicinal uses of marshmallow route were relatively overpowered by corn syrup and other cheaper alternatives.

Fast forward to today, marshmallow root is still used in the complementary and alternative medicine world as an herbal remedy for the digestive tract, respiratory tract, and skin alike! Let’s dive into some of the basic science behind what makes this herb so useful!

Important Active Compounds of Marshmallow Root

What makes marshmallow root so effective in soothing the digestive and respiratory tracts? The answer lies in the same compounds that make the sap so characteristically sticky - various polysaccharides. This is a word that means “large sugar molecule”, and marshmallow root contains a significant amount of mucilage, pectin, and glucuronic acid to name a few.

Mucilage is a particularly fascinating compound. Just as it sounds, this sugar molecule is responsible for the mucus-like thickness that imparts many benefits. It is a hydrophilic, or “water-loving” compound, that attracts water to form a sort of gel.

Mucilage is in a category of compounds called demulcents that coat our mucous membranes (like our gut and respiratory tract) to offer protection and soothing underneath.

Other foods and herbs that contain this powerful polysaccharide include chia seeds, slippery elm, aloe vera gel, and okra. If you’ve experienced some of these substances, you know exactly the texture I’m describing here. Nature’s protectant, if you will.

Marshmallow root also contains phytonutrients such as quercetin, tannins, and coumarins that have various effects ranging from anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial. The most relevant uses studied so far are related to the polysaccharides above!

Evidence-based Uses for Marshmallow Root

For the purpose of this discussion, note that there is very little available human research for marshmallow root despite its generally well-accepted usage. When we explore its potential uses, I will include a note if the supportive study is not a human study. Hopefully, more research will continue to reveal its many healing benefits. 

All in all, there are many potential uses of this soothing herbal ingredient. The European Medicines Agency reports that marshmallow root is generally safe and that no side effects have been reported from its use.

It is important to consult with your healthcare providers with herbal products as they may interfere with the absorption or efficacy of some pharmaceuticals. Though this is more theoretical than documented, it’s important when considering use with anti-diabetic drugs or antipsychotic drugs. 

Though there is limited research for most herbal products in pregnant or breast-feeding women, there are some small studies that suggest safety and efficacy. It’s considered “unlikely to be harmful” to the breast-fed infant.

Tips on Finding and Using Marshmallow Root

There is a lot of noise out there in the wellness world, but here’s a few tips and strategies to navigating the use of marshmallow root in your wellness routine:

  • As with all supplements, consider a supplement company with quality-control certifications such as certified Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).
  • Marshmallow is something that you can comfortably grow in your own garden and reap the benefits of the leaves and roots alike in its most unprocessed form! Give it a try if you’re a gardener.
  • Marshmallow root can be used in a combination product with other herbs or as a stand-alone ingredient depending on your intended use.
  • Consult with an herbalist or integrative health practitioner for specific advice on dosing and quality products if you’re addressing a specific health concern. 
  • Consider a quality daily supplement that contains some soothing marshmallow root as part of a a comprehensive gut health supplement such as Cielo’s Horizon.

Conclusion

Marshmallow root boasts a rich therapeutic history that dates back to ancient time and has been used for its soothing properties throughout the ages. Though modern research on this herb is limited, its benefits for digestive and respiratory health remain well-regarded, thanks to its rich content of mucilage and other bioactive compounds. 

This powerful plant can be a valuable addition to your wellness routine, offering protection and relief for our insulted mucous membranes and contributing to overall gut health. Despite the evolution of marshmallows from a medicinal sap to a sweet treat, the root itself remains a powerful herbal remedy - one of my personal favorites!

For more insights and tips on gut health and wellness, follow Dr. Kenny and Cielo on Instagram for the latest updates and down-to-earth advice. We’d love to hear from you!

About the Author

Dr. Kenny Mittelstadt, DACM, DC, L.Ac., Dipl.OM.

Kenny Mittelstadt is a functional health practitioner and acupuncturist based in San Antonio, Texas. He is trained through the Institute for Functional Medicine and received both of his doctorate degrees with highest honors from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He focuses on empowering patients through wellness education and root-cause healing – transforming health through personalized, lab-based functional medicine programs!

Website: DrKennyMittelstadt.com

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