Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
Synonyms / Common Names / Related Terms
Althaea leaf, althaea root, Althaea officinalis L. var robusta, Althaeae folium, althaeae radi, althaea radix, Althea, althea leaf, althea root, Altheia, Apothekerstockmalve (German), bismalva (Italian), buonvischio (Italian), cheeses, Eibischwurzel (German), Guimauve (French), gul hatem (Turkish), Herba Malvae, hitmi (Turkish), kitmi (Turkish), Mallards, Malvaceae (family), malvacioni (Italian), malve, malvavisco (Spanish), mortification root, Racine De Guimauve, sweet weed, witte malve, wymote.
Note: Not to be confused with mallow leaf or mallow flower. Not to be confused with confectionery marshmallows; although confectionery marshmallows were once made from the Althaea officinalis plant, they now primarily contain sugar.
Mechanism of Action
- Constituents: Marshmallow root preparations consist of peeled or unpeeled dried root of Althaea officinalis L., and contain mucilage polysaccharides (6.2-11.6%) composed of galacturonorhamnans, arabinans, glucaris, arabinogalactans; carbohydrates (25-35 %); flavanoids; glycosides; sugars (10% sucrose); amines (up to 12% asparagines); fat (1.7%); calcium oxalate; coumarins; phenolic acid9; and sterols. Purified homogenous mucilage of marshmallow mucilage is composed of L-rhamsose, D-galactose, galacuonnic acid, and D-glucuronic acid in molar ratio of 3:2:3:31. Scopoletin, quercitin, kaempferol, chlorgenic acid, caffeic acid and p-coumaric acid are also present in the roots. Marshmallow is high in aluminum, iron, magnesium, selenium, tin, and substantial amounts of calcium. It is also high in pectin, which may lower blood glucose concentrations. The root contains 25-35% of the mucilage; however, the content of purified mucilage is much lower. Asparagine, sugar, pectin and tannin have also been identified in the root. The mucilage content of the root, leaves and flowers is highest in the late fall and winter (approximately 11%) and lowest in the spring and summer (5-6%). Xylose, glucan, arabinogalactan, acidic polysaccharide containing 2-O-alpha-D-galacturonopyranosyl-l-rhamnose10 are also present in the hydrolysate of leaf and flower mucilage. Extracts from hybrid plants have been found to be more mucilaginous with different sugar composition compared to native plants.11
- Anti-inflammatory effects: In 1966, Beaune et al. conducted an experimental study and found that the anti-inflammatory properties of marshmallow alone were superior to dexamethasone monotherapy rabbits.4 Although these data suggest that marshmallow may possess anti-inflammatory properties that are additive to topical steroids, measurement techniques and statistical methods were not adequately described.
- Antimicrobial effects: Marshmallow given intraperitoneally to rats at a dose of 10mg/kg exhibits phagocytic activity, suppresses mucociliary action, and stimulates phagocytosis. It also exhibits antimicrobial activity against P. aeroginosa, P. vulgaris and S. aureus.2,3
- Antitussive/mucociliary effects: Mucilaginous herbs like marshmallow root may inhibit coughing by forming a protective coating on the mucosal lining of the respiratory tract, shielding it from irritants.2,6 Marshmallow reduces the transport velocity of isolated ciliary epithelia and may protect mucous layers in the hypopharynx, exert spasmolytic, antisecretory, and bactericidal properties.2 Antitussive activity has been demonstrated by oral doses of marshmallow root extract and a marshmallow polysaccharide (100mg/kg and 50mg/kg respectively) in cats as compared to a non-narcotic cough suppressant. A polysaccharide dose of 50mg/kg was equally effective as "Syrupus Althaeae" in a dose of 1,000mg/kg.7 The extract was less effective than marshmallow polysaccharide.5 Demulcent properties of marshmallow may be due to reduction of local irritation that causes gastritis.
- Dermatologic effects: Combinations of marshmallow preparations with steroids have been used in the management of dermatological conditions, and the plant appears to possess anti-inflammatory activity that potentates the effect of topical steroids.8,12 In vitro, anti-inflammatory effects of an ointment containing marshmallow extract and dexamethasone (0.05%) was superior to the individual ingredients in the alleviation of chemically-induced rabbit ear irritation.4 Marshmallow extract in vivo stimulates phagocytosis and the release of cytokines from monocytes, including interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor.13
- Hypoglycemic effects: At doses of 10mg/kg, 30mg/kg and 100mg/kg, marshmallow reduces plasma glucose levels to 74%, 81% and 65% of prior values, respectively, after seven hours in rats.1
- Marshmallow mucilage is not altered in the digestive tract until it reaches the colon, where it may be partially or completely digested via bacterial action.5
- Tomoda, M., Shimizu, N., Oshima, Y., Takahashi, M., Murakami, M., and Hikino, H. Hypoglycemic activity of twenty plant mucilages and three modified products. Planta Med 1987;53(1):8-12. 3575513
- Muller-Limmroth, W. and Frohlich, H. H. [Effect of various phytotherapeutic expectorants on mucociliary transport]. Fortschr Med 1-24-1980;98(3):95-101. 7364365
- Recio MC and et al. Antimicrobial activity of selected plants employed in the Spanish Mediterranean area, Part II. Phytother Res 1989;3:77-80.
- Beaune, A. and Balea, T. [Anti-inflammatory experimental properties of marshmallow: its potentiating action on the local effects of corticoids]. Therapie 1966;21(2):341-347. 5935643
- Bone K. Marshmallow soothes cough. Br J Phytother 1993;3(2):93.
- Meyer E. Behandlung akuter und chronischer Bronchitiden mit Heilpflanzen. Therapiewoche 1956;6:537-540.
- Nosal'ova, G., Strapkova, A., Kardosova, A., Capek, P., Zathurecky, L., and Bukovska, E. [Antitussive action of extracts and polysaccharides of marsh mallow (Althea officinalis L., var. robusta)]. Pharmazie 1992;47(3):224-226. 1615030
- Huriez, C. and Fagez, C. [An association of marshmallow-dexamethasone: the pommade Dexalta]. Lille Med 1968;13(2):121-123. 5745965
- Gudej J. Flavonoids, phenolic acids and coumarins from the roots of Althaea officinalis. Planta Med 1991;57:284-285.
- Franz G. Die Schleimpolysaccharide von Althaea officinalis und Malva sylvestris. Planta Med 1966;14:90-110.
- Franz, G. and Chladek, M. [Comparative studies on the composition of crude mucus from crossbred descendants of Althaea officinalis L. and Althaea armeniaca Ten]. Pharmazie 1973;28(2):128-129. 4687561
- Piovano, P. B. and Mazzocchi, S. [Clinical trial of a steroid derivative (9-alpha-fluoro-prednisolone-21- acetate) in association with aqueous extract of althea in the dermatological field]. G Ital Dermatol Minerva Dermatol 1970;45(4):279-286. 5537593
- Scheffer J and König W. Einfluss von Radix althaeae und Flores chamomillae Extrakten auf Entzündungsreaktionen humaner neutrophiler Granulozyten, Monozyten und Rattenmastzellen. Abstracts of 3rd Phytotherapie-Kongress 1991;Abstract P9.