Herb(s) of the Week – Marshmallow Loves Me
I’ve started what I thought was a summer affair but instead it has become something so much more substantial. How did I never notice the full wonders of Marshmallow before?
I think on more than one occasion I’ve heard herbal teachers do the usual herbalist litany of how it is considered sweet, cooling, moist and bland with lots of mucilage that makes it helpful for gastrointestinal problems and soothing to the whole digestive system. Then move on as if wanting to discuss something more exciting. So over the years I built the same dismissive shorthand of digestive issues = consider Marshmallow.
With the onset of Spring/Summer in Boston I began to feel a little heat imbalance in my system (or in Ayurvedic terms my Pitta was getting unbalanced) and this was showing itself in odd rashes here and there. So I was looking at my herbs thinking of what would be a cooling counterbalance and Marshmallow winked at me….
It’s probably a bit of hyperbole on his part but according to Pliny: “Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him.”
Even beyond that the very Latin name for it and its plant family speaks volumes – Althea is from the Greek altho (to cure) while the family name Malvaceae comes from malake (soft) for the softening/healing qualities of the whole plant family (which also includes Cacao; Okra; Durian fruit and Hibiscus.)
In the usual herbal speak it’s considered to have many general actions such as being demulcent, nutritive tonic, alternative, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, antitussive, analgesic, diuretic, antilithic, mild immune stimulant, galactogogue and antihistamine.
Which is all very long winded and filled with herbal buzz words instead – just look at some of its general historic uses to get a better idea of its magic:
- inflammation in the digestive system
- dry coughs
- irritable bladder
- skin problems
- kidney stones
Matthew Wood talks about it having a special affinity for the kidneys which I wouldn’t disagree with, but I particularly like it’s cooling anti-inflammatory nature. And it is thought of as having the special ability to bind and remove toxins to help the body to cleanse itself. It’s plain nutritive aspects can’t be ignored either since it has impressive amounts of calcium, in a readily absorbable form, as well as magnesium.
In Ayurveda, it is considered good for all three doshas but particularly calms high pitta thus reducing heat and inflammation (Pitta is always there when there is inflammation!) This is where I really began to appreciate its magic.
Where you can use it:
- As a poultice for burns, bruises and wounds
- Just use the leaves on insect stings and bites; or mix with lavender essential oil, in a carrier oil, for skin inflammation
- Use as wash for eczema
Or simply drink a nice tea of it to calm the savage Pitta. I’ve begun to truly love the cooling almost nervine like aspects of a cold infusion of Marshmallow tea in my life. It seems to to help not only physical inflammation but emotional and nervous “inflammation” as well.
Sometimes I like making the cold infusion with a bit of Licorice as well. And James Green’s book The Male Herbal introduced me to the lovely notion of adding Chamomile and Cinnamon to it too. So yummy and calming in all the right ways.
While you can use flowers, leaves and roots, I’m particularly fond of the roots for tea. Generally it better as a cold infusion to extract the mucilage. There is a long tradition of decocting it – as well as boiling it in wine as a cough aid.
Finally, there’s a old folk saying that if you rub your hands in the sap of plant – you won’t be stung by bees. I have yet to try that one myself…. 😉
All this made me realize that not only do I really love Marshmallow but maybe it loves me too.