Native to coastal areas of Europe, today marshmallow is widely naturalized. The plant’s botanical name originates from the Greek verb, altho (meaning “to heal”), and it has been recognized for its soothing and healing action, both externally and internally, for at least 3,500 years. As well as being used medicinally, both the root and leaves can be consumed as vegetables.
Parts used: Root, leaves, flowers.
Main constituents: Root: asparagine, mucilage, polysaccharides, pectin, tannins. Leaves: mucilage, flavonoids, coumarin, salicylic, and other phenolic acids.
Effect: Root: demulcent, expectorant, diuretic, wound herb. Leaves: expectorant, diuretic, demulcent. Flowers: expectorant.
HOW TO USE
Maceration: Soak 1oz (30g) of root in 1 pint (600ml) of cold water overnight and strain. The result is often very thick and mucilaginous and could need further dilution. Take 1⁄2–1 cup 3 times a day for dry coughs, gastric ulceration, acid reflux, and cystitis.
Poultice: Prepare a paste from 1 teaspoon of powdered root mixed with a little water and use on boils, abscesses, ulcers, or poorly healing infected wounds.
Ointment: Use to draw splinters, thorns, or pus.
Infusion: Drink 1 cup (1–2 teaspoons dried leaves per cup of boiling water) 3 times a day for bronchial asthma, bronchitis, or pleurisy.
Syrup: Prepare a marshmallow syrup by mixing 1 pint (600ml) of a standard infusion of fresh flowers with 1lb (450g) of honey or syrup, bringing the mixture to a boil and simmering it gently for 10–15 minutes. Take 1 teaspoon (5ml) doses as instructed.
HOW TO GET
Grow: Marshmallow likes moist, well-drained, fertile, soil in full sun; also tolerates other conditions. Sow seed in trays of compost in midsummer and transplant to 3in (7.5cm) pots when established enough to handle. Plant the following spring. You can also divide plants in autumn. May self-seed enthusiastically in ideal conditions.
Forage: You can find it in riversides, ditches, tidal zones, and pond margins, especially in coastal areas. Collect the flowers in summer to make a cough syrup, or the leaves during the growing period. The root can be boiled as a vegetable.
Harvest: Dig the root in autumn. Cut the aerial parts as the plant begins to flower.