Althea officinalis (Marshmallow)

Latin:Althaea officinalis / Malva sylvestris (Common Mallow), Malva maschata (Musk Mallow) (I’ve included these as they can be used pretty much interchangeably.)

Also Known As: High Mallow, Mauls, Cheese Flower, Blue Mallow, Common Mallow, Mallards, Schloss Tea, Cheeses, Mortification root.

Family: Malvaceae

Habitat and Description: Marshmallow is a tall growing perennial often cultivated in gardens for its attractive silvery grey foliage and tall stems of pale pinky lilac flowers. Mallow – a relative of marshmallow – is often found growing wild near where I live, and is a rather pretty perennial that grows to about three feet tall. It is often found growing in hedgerows and on roadsides – we have a fair amount of it growing down near the river. The leaves are lobed and dark green in colour, with fine toothing. The flowers are dark pink – purple and slightly stripy, growing in clusters on the stems. Musk Mallow – another relative – has pale pink or creamy white flowers, and paler green leaves. It is another perennial, growing to around two feet tall, and like common Mallow, it enjoys growing on roadsides and hedgerows, especially in places where it gets plenty of sun. I think that this is a fantastic plant and if you are going to keep a herbal medicine cabinet, this should certainly be included in it.

Althea officinalis (Marshmallow)

malva-sylvestris

Parts Used: The leaves, root, and whole plant before flowering.

Constituents: Starch, plenty of mucilage, pectin, flavonoids, tannins, scopoletin, oil, sugars, asparagin, phosophate of lime, cellulose. The roots contain a large amount of mucilage, including polysaccharides, as well as flavonoids, coumarins and poyphenolic acids including caffeic acid, salicylic and vanillic acids. The leaf contains mucilages, flavonoids and polyphenlics such as caffeic acid, which is apparently also to be found in the flower.

Planetary Influence: Venus / the Moon

Associated Deities and Heroes: Osiris, Althea, Venus, Aphrodite, Shiva – probably also other cultural representations of Venus, possibly including deities such as Inanna, who, despite having a considerably darker aspect than is generally conceded to a face of the Goddess of Love, is nevertheless often seen as the Sumerian counterpart of Venus. You could probably also include Freya in this list as well for similar reasons.

Festival: Beltaine

Constitution: Cool and moist (in the first degree – the whole plant is gently demulcent, softening and moistening.)

Spiritual and Energetic Uses: Marshmallow is used to soften up inflexible mental attitudes, and for those who are hard hearted and unable to feel their own emotions. It encourages greater mental and emotional flexibility in a patient and more tolerance for those around them. A good friend of mine adds it to prescriptions for children who are under some stress – she uses it to soothe and comfort and provide a stable framework for a child to work from when there is some upheaval in their lives.

It is also apparently useful for those who feel isolated and lonely, enabling them to form better, more trusting relationships and to communicate more freely.

Actions and Indications: The primary use for Marshmallow and its relatives is as a soothing demulcent, suitable as a natural remedy for many inflamed conditions afflicting the mucous membranes of the urinary tract, respiratory tract and digestive system. It can be used to soothe ulceration of the digestive system and related digestive upsets such as gastritis, peptic ulceration and inflammation of the system in general, such as that caused by IBS, IBD and ulcerative colitis. It can be used to treat mild constipation as well as diarrhoea. I’ve found some references to it being useful in the management of diabetes though I haven’t had much luck yet in finding an explanation of why it helps with this.

It is a wonderful expectorant and demulcent and can be used as a gentle natural remedy to ease catarrh, dry coughs and related bronchial complaints such as bronchitis. It makes a useful mild antitussive to soothe coughs in general, as well as to ease laryngitis and pneumonia.

As a soothing demulcent for the urinary tract, it can be used to ease cystitis and related urinary tract infections, as well as nephritis and urinary calculi. It can also be used sometimes to give relief to those who suffer from high blood pressure with related water retention. The leaf is the part most often used to treat urinary tract problems as well as respiratory tract issues. The root is most often used to treat digestive tract ailments.

Apparently the root can also have a lubricating effect on the joints and skeleton in general and can be useful in the treatment of arthritis and related joint conditions, as well as on stiff muscles – possibly a good one for those of us who train too hard and regret it the following morning?

Topically, it makes a wonderful ointment for drawing boils and abscesses, to remove toxins from the wounds, as well as to treat insect bites. It can be used as either an ointment or a poultice for this purpose.

Folklore: ‘Malva’ is thought to come from the Greek word for ‘soft’ – ‘malake’. Personally it looks like a bit of a big leap to get from one to the other but having not witnessed first hand how the nomenclature of plants changes through history, I think that it is entirely possible. The name Althaea apparently drives from the Greek word altho, meaning to cure.

The ancient Greeks used the plant as a grave flower, and planted it on the graves of loved ones. Interesting in light of its association with Venus, and certainly a piece of lore that gives credence to my theory that it can also be associated with Inanna and related deities such as Freya. Love in the ancient world was not the fluffy thing we think it to be these days – love and death seem to have been far more closely connected. A member of the Mallow family was eaten as a vegetable by the Romans and the Egyptians.

The plant was known and esteemed by the ancient Greek physicians Dioscorides and Pliny.

According to Graves’ ‘The White Goddess’, the flower was sacred to the goddess Althea, a garden fertility deity. According to the story, she hangs herself after hearing that her brothers had been killed by her son. Good old family values certainly ran strong in the Greek myths!

The popular sweet known as marshmallow used to be cooked from the juice from the root of this herb – unfortunately that is no longer the practice, and I dread to think exactly what goes into marshmallows these days!

Magical Uses: Unsurprisingly for a plant ruled by Venus, Mallow is carried to attract love. The flowers are used in Beltaine rituals, for garlands and altar decorations. They can also be added to ritual baths, especially for those to encourage and invoke fertility and lust. The flower petals can be used as confetti, and dried and used as an addition to incense or to consecrate handfasting implements such as the cord and rings. Apparently Mallow can also be used to encourage a lover who has left you to come back to you (I refuse to comment on this one.) marshmallow is often grown on sacred ground. The seed of the plant gathered at full moon and made into an oil can be used to encourage fertility, as can amulets composed of the leaf and or root.

Mallow is yet another plant that can be used for protection and exorcism (although I am beginning to wonder if there are any plants that CANNOT be used for this purpose! Certainly helpful in a way – stuck? Need to protect or exorcise a place? Just grab whatever herb you can get your hands on! Yes, I know, such an attitude is befitting of a total philistine!) The plant can be used to make a protective ointment, by steeping the leaves and stems in vegetable or seed oil, then applying the strained finished oil to the skin. This protects the wearer against black magic. It could probably be used to anoint candles and tools for a similar purpose.

Dose: A tea of the herb can be taken three times a day, made from one teaspoon of the herb infused into one cup of hot water. Up to 4mls of the tincture three times per day. A cold infusion of the root can be made by adding up to 4g of the dried root in 1 cup of cold water (though this would certainly be a rather slimy cup to drink the following morning! Would be a lovely skin wash for skin conditions, though.)

Contraindications: Too much can have a laxative effect. It is possible that the herb could delay the absorption of other drugs taken at the same time. I’ll look into this and post any further information I find when I find it.

Brought to you by Alex English at http://www.eldrumherbs.co.uk