Marshmallow root, also known by its Latin name Althaea officinalis, is a plant that has been traditionally used for a number of health concerns, such as coughs and sore throats, breastfeeding concerns, skin care, and more. (6) Marshmallow root supplements are often sold in natural health stores or online as marshmallow root tea, marshmallow root powder, marshmallow root capsules, or marshmallow root tincture. It also appears in some skin and hair care products.
While research on marshmallow root is somewhat sparse, most marshmallow root benefits appear to stem from this medicinal herb’s high concentration of mucilage—a gooey, viscous substance produced by most plants. Plant-derived mucilage has been used by many cultures throughout the world, particularly for healing inflammation, both internally (e.g., for digestive distress) and externally (e.g., for burns). (15)
In this article, we’ll discuss marshmallow root uses and benefits, as well as the different conditions that may benefit from marshmallow root extract supplementation.
What is marshmallow root?
Native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, the marshmallow plant is known for its large, ragged-edged leaves. (2)(6)(19) The active components of marshmallow include arabinogalactans, galacturonorhamnans, glucans, and arabinans—all mucilage polysaccharides. The therapeutic effects of the plant, both as a soothing protective coating and as an anti-inflammatory, are believed to be attributed to these components. (4)While much of the research on the marshmallow plant focuses on the root, some studies have also found that the flower and leaf may have potential uses in health. (21)
Marshmallow root uses
While research is somewhat limited to date, a number of potential applications of marshmallow has been identified. Keep reading to learn about some of the more popular uses of marshmallow.
Cough and sore throat
Marshmallow root is perhaps best known for its use in treating coughs and sore throats, which is why it’s often found in natural cough syrup and lozenge products. But does it actually work? According to some animal studies and human trials, it looks like the answer might be yes.
In a pair of studies conducted in Germany, where marshmallow has long been used for medicinal purposes, researchers looked at whether lozenges and syrup containing marshmallow root extract could help alleviate a dry cough. They found that not only did both options help soothe the cough and resulting sore throat, but that they worked quickly—in most cases in as little as 10 minutes. (7)
Similarly, a recent review article, which sought to examine the results of various modern research studies on marshmallow for cough, further supports these findings. It found that marshmallow—both alone and in combination with other herbal remedies like ginger—works as a cough suppressant and expectorant. The authors conclude that marshmallow root may be a wise choice for sore throat, cough, and other respiratory issues. (13)
Furthermore, children may also experience cough relief from marshmallow root. According to two studies, herbal mixtures including marshmallow root may help reduce cough, nighttime wakings, and overall number of respiratory infections. (1)(11) The first study used a combination marshmallow, chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), common mallow (Malva sylvestris), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and jujube (Ziziphus jujuba). The second used a mixture of marshmallow root (Althaeae radix), chamomile flower (Matricariae flos), horsetail herb (Equiseti herba), walnut leaves (Juglandis folium), yarrow herb (Millefolii herba), oak bark (Quercus cortex), and dandelion herb (Taraxaci herba). It’s impossible to say how much of the improvement was attributable to marshmallow versus the other ingredients. Be sure to talk to your child’s healthcare provider before administering any medications or new supplements.
Around half of all women who breastfeed encounter difficulties like mastitis or other infections. (8) Nursing mothers are often interested in finding natural remedies for any issues that arise, and there’s no shortage of products available to help. Marshmallow root is often included as an ingredient in breastfeeding support products, including teas and nipple creams and salves.
In addition to a long history of traditional use as a strategy to increase breastmilk supply, (14) marshmallow has also been shown to help with breastfeeding-related discomfort. In one study, women with uncomfortable breast engorgement found relief when they used compresses with Althea officinalis leaf. (12)While marshmallow is a popular treatment for breastfeeding issues, be sure to reach out to your healthcare provider or lactation consultant if you’re experiencing problems with breastfeeding, such as low milk supply or breast pain.
Marshmallow root is a popular natural skin care ingredient due to its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. (17) Traditionally, it has been used in ointments or poultices for skin conditions including infection of the hair follicle, eczema, and other dermatitis. (10)
Recent research appears to support the use of marshmallow root for various skin-related issues.
Wound healing support
Marshmallow root extract contains plant chemicals that can support wounds healing. These effects are believed to be attributed, in part, to the plant’s ability to kill gram-positive bacteria but not gram-negative bacteria (gram-positive bacteria are bacteria with a thick outer layer; gram-negative bacteria have a thin outer layer). (17) One study found that an ointment containing 15% Althaea officinalis flower mucilage reduced wound healing time as effectively as a pharmaceutical option (phenytoin 1%). (21)
Atopic dermatitis relief
A recent study found that an ointment containing 1% Althaea officinalis reduced the severity of atopic dermatitis in children more effectively than hydrocortisone cream, though more studies are needed to confirm this finding. (16)
UVA damage protection
Preliminary laboratory research suggests that marshmallow root may protect skin cells against UVA rays, which can cause sunburn and premature aging of the skin. (20) However, it does not appear to provide any protection against UVB damage and should not be used in place of sunscreen. (3)
Dry mouth relief
People can suffer from dry mouth for a number of reasons, including some medications, depression and anxiety, and dehydration. While dry mouth may seem like a minor issue, it can significantly affect quality of life, as well as increase the risk of cavities, oral yeast infections, and difficulty swallowing. (22)
Research suggests that marshmallow root may be a solution for people who don’t produce enough saliva. In one study, marshmallow root improved both dry mouth and quality of live in patients with low saliva production. (18) Marshmallow root lozenges or marshmallow root tea may be good options for dry mouth sufferers.
Marshmallow root’s mucilage content also appears to provide some soothing protection in the digestive tract, making it a popular natural remedy for digestive ailments such as ulcers and heartburn.
Some studies have found that marshmallow root protects against gastric ulcers in rats. (23)(24) Earlier in vitro research found that marshmallow root extract may have promise in soothing inflamed membranes and supporting tissue regeneration. (5) Human studies are needed to back up these findings.
Research on marshmallow for heart health is limited but promising. One study found that an extract of the Althaea officinalis flower reduced high-density lipoprotein levels, inflammation, and platelet aggregation (platelet aggregation can lead to blood clots). No negative effects of supplementation were noted. (9) More studies are needed to explore the potential health benefits related to heart health.
The bottom line
While much of the research on marshmallow is preliminary, the long traditional use of this plant makes it a low-risk choice for some of the concerns outlined in this article. As with any medications—natural or otherwise—it’s always best to consult with your integrative health practitioner before using marshmallow extract. While studies haven’t found many adverse effects, your healthcare provider will be able to help you decide whether marshmallow products are right for you.
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- Fahamiya, N., Shiffa, M., Aslam, M., & Muzn, F. (2016). Unani perspective of Khatmi (Althaea officinalis). Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, 5(6), 357–360. https://www.phytojournal.com/archives/2016/vol5issue6/PartE/5-6-35-802.pdf
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