When most people hear marshmallow, they think of the white fluffy food treat commonly roasted at campfires. Marshmallow, however, is also a type of herb. Marshmallow, known scientifically as Althaea officinalis, is an African plant with short roundish leaves and small pale flowers. It was originally used medicinally by the Egyptians. Its usage was later adopted by the French. Today, it has a wide variety of medicinal uses.
Marshmallow is most commonly used to ease sore throats and dry coughs. The Marshmallow plant, especially the leaves and roots, contains polysaccharides that have antitussive, mucilaginous, and antibacterial properties. Because of this, marshmallow has a soothing effect on inflamed membranes in the mouth and throat when ingested orally, specifically a sore throat. The antitussive properties help reduce dry coughing and prevent further irritation.
More recently, marshmallow has been used to treat certain digestive disorders, including heartburn, indigestion, ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers and Crohn's disease. The mechanism by which it soothes sore throats applies to gastrointestinal mucosa as well and regular consumption of marshmallow can help with the pain of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's, and prevent stomach ulcers from perforation. Marshmallow extract is sometimes added to creams and used to treat inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and contact dermatitis. Additional uses are currently being investigated. Marshmallow may be a helpful aid to radiologic esophageal examination. There is tentative evidence that marshmallow may also help with respiratory disorders such as asthma. Researchers may soon test marshmallow as a natural alternative to blood sugar management in diabetes.
Marshmallow works as a mucilage, producing a thick sticky substance that coats membranes. Marshmallow extract contains flavanoids, which contain anti-inflammatory properties. The flavanoids are able to reduce inflammation while the mucilage holds them in place and prevents further damage. The extracts also induce phagocytosis, which is the process in which certain cells engulf bacteria, dead cell tissues or other solid particles. This helps speed up the healing process. The mucilage remains unaltered until it reaches the colon, which is why marshmallow works well on most inflammatory digestive disorders.
Marshmallow also contains Asparagine, which is a naturally occurring amino acid. It is not an Essential amino acid as it can be produced by the body so is not needed as a dietary supplement. Asparagine was first identified from Asparagus juice, in which it is abundant, and hence its name Asparagine. It was then identified in a range of other plant and animal food sources and identified as an amino acid.
The roots and leaves of the marshmallow are the parts most commonly used medicinally. Marshmallow can be commonly found in the form of tinctures, capsules and tea. The preferred form and dosage depends on the specific ailment being treated. Tincture is the preferred form for treatment of sore throats and dry coughs. One to two teaspoons should be taken two to three times a day. For stomach ulcers and indigestion, tea works well. Pre-made teas can be purchased or tea can be made by using two to five teaspoons of either powdered root or dried leaves and and boiling them in five ounces of water. Tea containing both powdered root and dry leaves appears to be most effective. Capsules can be used for Crohn's and ulcerative colitis at a dosage of six grams a day. Marshmallow can also come commercially in ointments, creams and cough syrups, though these forms are notoriously hard to find. The more common forms can be found in most herbal supply stores and in some natural or organic grocery stores and health food stores.
Marshmallow is considered a very safe herb and virtually no side effects have been reported with its use. Marshmallow may, however, cause low blood sugar in some people, so those with low blood sugar should check with a physician or herbalist before using marshmallow. Because of the way marshmallow coat the stomach, it may affect absorption of other drugs. Anyone taking medications should take marshmallow either six hours before or six hours after taking other medication.
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