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Marshmallow

Marshmallow
© Sertürner Bildarchiv

Botanical name

Marshmallow - Althaea officinalis L.

Family

Mallow family (Malvaceae)

Useful information about the plant

Marshmallow is native to Asia and has now spread west up to south-eastern Europe, east through Central Asia to China, often grown wild as a garden plant. The genus name Althaea is derived from the Greek "altheeis" (=curative). The epithet officinalis leads one to conclude that it is an old medicinal plant, because the "officina" is the sales room of a pharmacy and "officinalis" means used in the pharmacies. Marshmallow grows up to 1.50m and has velvety hairy leaves with 3 to 5 lobes with palmate venation. In the leaf axils are large white to pink flowers; flowering time is July to September. Strong, grey-brown roots up to 50cm long grow down from a short rhizome.

Medicinally used plant parts (drug)

The peeled or unpeeled roots are used. The peeling is technically very complex and the amount of labour required does not seem justified, however, it corresponds to an old tradition. The cut drug is always on the market peeled and cut in a typical cube form. The commercially available drug comes from farms in Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, Russia, Hungary and Belgium.

Ingredients of the drug

Marshmallow root contains mucilage.

Descriptions of the quality

The quality of the marshmallow root (Althaea radix) is specified in the European Pharmacopoeia (Ph. Eur). The quality of marshmallow syrup (Althaeae sirupus) is specified in the German Drug Codex (DAC ).

Medical Application

Recognised medical use

For mucous membranes in the mouth and throat and dry coughs and mild gastritis (Commission E, ESCOP).
The HMPC has classified marshmallow as a traditional herbal medicinal product (see "traditional use").

Traditional use

Marshmallow root was classified by the HMPC as a traditional herbal medicine (§ 39a AMG rated). Based on many years of experience, marshmallow root is used for irritation of mucous membranes in the mouth and throat and related dry coughs and for improving slight stomach complaints.
Traditionally used to help release the mucus in the respiratory tract (traditional use according to § 109a).

Medicinal herbal preparations in finished drug products

  • cut drug to prepare tea
  • powdered drug in tablets
  • dried extracts in soluble instant teas
  • aqueous extract in juice and syrup

Dosage

Prepared drugs: see package insert;
Tea infusion: drink a cold cup of marshmallow infusion (prepared cold) three times a day.

Preparation of a tea infusion

Pour 150ml of cold water over 1 teaspoon (2g) of chopped marshmallow and stirring occasionally let it stand for 1 to 2 hours. The mixture is briefly brought to the boil, cooled and then passed through a tea strainer.

Advice

Diabetics must note the content of sugar indicated on the package when taking marshmallow syrup.
There are no studies on the harmlessness of the use of marshmallow during pregnancy and breast-feeding. It is not recommended to treat coughs in children under the age of 3, because this symptom requires medical advice. The treatment for stomach ailments in children under 12 years old is also discouraged, as there are no studies on its safety.

Side effects

None known

Interactions

Marshmallow root is to be taken 1 hour before taking any other medicines, as there may otherwise be a delayed absorption of other drugs by the gastro-intestinal tract.

References

Drug monographs

HMPC, Commission E, ESCOP, WHO Vol. 2

Further reading

Wichtl: Teedrogen und Phytopharmaka, pg. 73
Schilcher: Leitfaden Phytotherapie, pg. 84
Van Wyk: Handbuch der Arzneipflanzen, pg. 44
Kommentar zum Europäischen Arzneibuch (marshmallow root, no. 1126)

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