Health Benefits of the Marshmallow Herb
While we all wish the puffy, campfire confectionery has tremendous health effects, it is rather the Marshmallow herb (Althea officinalis) that does. The marshmallow has been featured in prescriptions worldwide since ancient times.
It was also quite popular as a food – so widespread was its popularity as a food that the ancient Chinese, Romans, Sumatrans and Egyptians have all been known to use this herb.
The Arabs have used its leaves in poultices to combat inflammation. The roots and the leaves of this plant contain a sticky substance called mucilage, which can be mixed with water to form a slick gel that can be applied topically on the throat and stomach as a balm.
People with chapped skin may also find the gel useful.
Although marshmallow has little scientific study to tout its beneficial uses, its long history is certainly food for thought. One recent study has also shown that preparations from marshmallow can help soothe irritated mucous membranes. Other diseases it can help with are cough, asthma, indigestion, ulcers and many more.
Cultivation of Marshmallow
The marshmallow is a hardy plant that grows in the wild in swamps and marshes (hence the name). With soft, velvety leaves and beautiful pink flowers that bloom all year, the marshmallow is an ideal decorative plant. Unfortunately, although the marshmallow can survive (even thrive) in over watering and other harsh conditions, marshmallows can be a little tricky to germinate.
But you should find it easy enough with these steps:
- Mix the seeds with damp sand and place in a plastic bag. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours for the moisture to set in.
- Place the bag in a refrigerator for about 4 weeks. Give the bag a shake from time to time to see if any seeds have sprouted.
- If any seed has sprouted, remove it immediately and transfer to a pot with good potting soil. Cover the seed with a sprinkling of the sand from the bag.
- Keep the pot covered with a plastic cling film. Always attempt to keep the soil as damp as possible, as marshmallows thrive in swampy lands in nature.
- Keep the pot in a sunny but cool area, such as a windowsill.
- When the seedlings are starting to sprout, transfer them from the pot to a bed outdoors. To do this, till a garden bed well, and then dig holes about a foot apart. Place the seedlings along with the potting soil from the pot to the hole.
- Water each plant deeply and frequently for the first year.
Tips on Growing Marshmallow
Keep in mind the conditions in which marshmallows grow in nature. They favor a swampy land, and you should emulate this in your garden bed by watering very frequently. Marshmallows grow very slowly in their first year, so be patient.
After a year, they may grow much faster, and you may have to re-space the plants to avoid overcrowding.
Medical Uses of Marshmallow
Although marshmallow sap has found its most popular use in the famous, well-loved marshmallow candy, the marshmallow itself has been said to have many health benefits.
Although few studies have been conducted on the health benefits of its use, it has been used with good effect for centuries in traditional medicinal practices. The success of these treatments can only signify the usefulness of the marshmallow plant in treating health complaints.
Here are some of its more widespread uses:
As a balm for skin irritation – Marshmallow contains a demulcent that soothes rashes, abrasions, inflammations and wounds. Use it in a poultice to soothe skin wounds.
Treat bladder infections – Marshmallow roots can be steeped in warm water, which can then be drunk in a soothing tea that can treat bladder infections. Some laboratory research shows that it can be as effective as the unhealthy antibiotics.
Improve gum health – Marshmallow has been seen to have a good effect on gum health. Chew on marshmallow leaves, or toss them in a salad.
Reduce toothaches – A soothing marshmallow tea can help alleviate tooth ache, and even slow or stop tooth infections.