Marshmallow root, or Althaea officinalis, is a flowering plant that has played a role in herbal medicine for centuries.
Many people use marshmallow root for various ailments, including coughs, skin irritation, and digestive problems, such as ulcers. It comes in the forms of a powder, capsule, tea, and cough syrup.
Researchers have not yet thoroughly investigated the effects of marshmallow root in humans. Most of the research to date has involved animal studies or very small-scale human studies, so more studies are necessary to confirm how effective the root is in humans.
In this article, we look at the evidence behind the possible benefits of marshmallow root. We also cover how to use it and the potential side effects.
What is marshmallow root?
People have used marshmallow root in herbal medicine for centuries.
Marshmallow root comes from the marshmallow plant and looks like a brown, fibrous husk. The flowers, root, and leaves of the marshmallow plant are edible.
The medicinal properties of marshmallow root come from the mucilage, or sap-like substance, that the plant produces.
The mucilage of the plant contains antioxidants, and research suggests that it forms a coating over skin and the digestive tract. By doing this, it may help with skin irritation and digestive issues, such as ulcers.
Marshmallow candy got its name from marshmallow root because manufacturers originally used the root’s mucilage to make this confection. Today, however, candy marshmallows typically do not contain the herb. Instead, they consist of sugar and gelatin.
The following sections discuss six reported benefits of marshmallow root.
1. Relieving coughs
Some natural and herbal cough syrups and cough drops contain marshmallow root. The mucilage may have a soothing effect on the esophagus by coating it.
The results of several small studies have suggested that herbal cough remedies that contain marshmallow root can have this effect. One study found that marshmallow root lozenges or syrup helped treat a dry cough.
Another study found that children who took an herbal mixture that contained marshmallow and other herbs, including chamomile and common mallow, had a less severe cough and fewer nighttime awakenings than those who received a placebo instead. This study did not, however, look at the effects of marshmallow root alone, so other herbs in the mixture could have been responsible for the medicinal effects.
The results of a third small-scale study suggest that children who received an herbal mixture that contained marshmallow root and other medicinal plants had fewer and less-prolonged respiratory infections.
Parents and caregivers should talk to a doctor before giving a child any herbal remedies.
2. Improving dry mouth
Chronic dry mouth, which the medical community calls xerostomia, can cause an increase in cavities, gum disease, and dental infections. Dry mouth usually means that a person has too little saliva in their mouth.
Antihistamines, blood pressure medications, neurological problems, and autoimmune diseases are among its many causes.
The authors of one study concluded that people who have hyposalivation, or low levels of saliva, may benefit from using marshmallow root. The herbal remedy helped with dry mouth symptoms, although it was not more effective than the other two treatments in the study, which were both over-the-counter dry mouth treatments.
To treat dry mouth, people can use marshmallow root lozenges. It is important to allow the lozenge to dissolve slowly in the mouth and to avoid chewing it.
Alternatively, people can make an herbal tea using either marshmallow root tea bags or the dried herb in a tea strainer and drink 2 to 3 cups daily.
3. Protecting against ulcers
The marshmallow plant may reduce the risk of gastric ulcers.
A 2015 study found that marshmallow flower extract could help protect the gut from gastric ulcers.
Researchers tested the effects of the extract on rats, using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) to induce ulcers in the rodents. Rats that received marshmallow root were less likely to develop stomach ulcers than rats who did not get the extract.
Based on these results, the authors suggest that the mucilage and flavonoids in the marshmallow plant may cover and protect the mucous lining of the stomach, which may reduce the risk of certain ulcers, including NSAID-associated ulcers.
4. Soothing skin irritation
Marshmallow root may help with skin irritation and inflammation. A review study suggests that its topical application can help with eczema and damage from UV radiation, or sun exposure.
Although marshmallow root may have a healing effect on sun-damaged skin, people should not use it in place of proper sun protection. UV radiation from the sun is a leading cause of skin cancer, and it can also cause premature aging of the skin.
5. Healing wounds
The soothing effect of marshmallow plant extracts may also help speed wound healing.
A study on rats found that applying marshmallow extract topically helped wounds heal compared with controls. The same study found that the extract was effective in killing specific types of bacteria, which could help prevent infection.
6. Protecting the throat from gastric reflux
When gastric reflux occurs, acid from the stomach flows back up into the throat, which can cause damage to the esophagus. The demulcent effect, whereby the mucilage coats a person’s esophagus, can protect it from the stomach’s damaging acids.
The powdered root form of the plant may be more effective than a tea or tincture, as the herb needs direct contact with the membranes to coat the throat.
Marshmallow root is unlikely to cause side effects when a person uses it properly. Most research has shown that people have a very low risk of adverse reactions.
However, in rare instances, people may be allergic to marshmallow root. To check for a skin allergy, they can apply a small amount of marshmallow root to the area of skin inside the elbow. If no reaction occurs within 24 hours, it should be safe to use elsewhere on the skin.
How to use
People can use marshmallow root in a variety of ways to benefit from its demulcent effect. When purchasing any marshmallow products, it is important to ensure that they contain the root of the plant.
How to make marshmallow root tea
People can make dried marshmallow root into a tea.
Using dried marshmallow root for loose-leaf tea is very straightforward. People can pour boiling water over the dried root before covering and steeping it for 5 to 10 minutes. It will then be ready to strain and drink.
Another option is to use ready-made marshmallow root tea bags. A person will just need to cover a tea bag with boiling water and allow it to steep for up to 10 minutes.
Anyone who prefers a sweet-flavored tea can add honey, which also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.
Using marshmallow powder
Marshmallow powder usually comprises a combination of the different parts of the plant, but the label may list how much of the root it contains.
People can mix marshmallow powder with water or juice to create a drink.
Alternatively, they can mix marshmallow root powder with water, pour it into a jar or container with a lid, and allow it to steep at room temperature overnight. As it sits, the mucilage creates a thick, slippery liquid that works well to soothe the throat and mouth. It is possible to store the liquid in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
How to make marshmallow skin salve
People can make a skin salve by combining cooled marshmallow tea or liquid marshmallow extract with coconut oil. They can apply this salve directly to the skin.
Due to its low risk of side effects and long history of medicinal use, marshmallow root is a good natural option for treating minor ailments. As with any herbal remedy, ask a doctor before using it, and do not use herbs in place of a doctor’s recommended treatment.
People can buy various forms of marshmallow root in health food stores or choose between brands online: