Marshmallow root is a medicinal supplement made from the root of a flowering perennial plantAlthaea officinalis, also known as marshmallows or marshmallows. Native to Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, marshmallow root has been used as an herbal cough remedy for centuries.
As a modern herbal remedy, mallow root is used to make salves, tinctures and teas to treat wounds, aid in digestion and reduce respiratory symptoms such as coughs and sore throats. Here’s how marshmallow root can benefit your health and if there are any side effects you should consider.
The potential health benefits of marshmallow root likely come from a plant compound called mucilage. When combined with water, the mucilage in marshmallow root creates a gel that can coat the throat, stomach, or skin to reduce irritation. However, human research regarding the health benefits of marshmallow root is limited.
Relieves cough and sore throat
When ingested, marshmallow root creates a protective antioxidant film called mucilage. This can coat the inner lining of the throat (mucosa) to relieve irritation and promote healing associated with dry coughs and sore throats. However, research on the actual use of marshmallow root for sore throats and coughs is limited.
In a German survey, 822 participants took marshmallow root lozenges or syrup for seven days to treat sore throats or dry coughs. Most people reported that marshmallow root in any form helped relieve symptoms within 10 minutes.
Another study also found that mallow root mucilage has protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on human immune cells. This effect appears to help protect cells for better healing from infection. But we still need more human trials to understand how marshmallow root treats coughs and sore throats.
It helps the healing of skin and wounds
Marshmallow root is often added to creams and salves to help promote healthy skin and heal damaged skin. Researchers believe that marshmallow root antioxidants and plant compounds offer anti-inflammatory activity that stimulates cells and reduces irritation and inflammation. The mucilage content in marshmallow root also helps the skin retain moisture.
Topical medicinals from marshmallow root are sometimes used to treat ulcers, eczema, and skin inflammation. A research review reported that 20% fat of marshmallow root extract helped reduce skin irritation caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation or tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol (a solvent found in paints, adhesives, pesticides, and other products).
In a study of children with mild to moderate eczema, applying 1% marshmallow root ointment helped reduce skin dryness and irritation more than 1% hydrocortisone ointment. However, the study included only 22 children.
In addition, research shows that other compounds in marshmallow root may help treat sore and cracked nipples after breastfeeding. However, there is no research to show whether applying marshmallow root to nipples during breastfeeding would affect breast milk or have any effect on infants.
It can help with problems with the digestive tract
Marshmallow root is often touted as a remedy for acid reflux and stomach ulcers. In theory, the mucilage from the root of the marshmallow should help treat these digestive problems because it can coat the stomach and throat. However, there is no evidence in humans that marshmallow root can treat digestive tract conditions.
The only research supporting the protective properties of marshmallow root on the digestive tract includes laboratory and animal studies. These studies have shown that marshmallow root can improve the lining of the digestive tract. In addition, the vitamins and antioxidants from marshmallow root can help prevent cell damage. However, we need human trials to prove that marshmallow root can treat digestive problems and stomach ulcers.
After the marshmallow root is harvested and dried, it resembles a yellow, fibrous mulch. Dried marshmallow root is commonly sold to make a tea. If you harvest your own marshmallow root, you can also eat the leaves and flowers. However, these parts will not benefit from the mucilage in the same way as the root. You can also buy marshmallow root in other forms, such as:
- Tea bags
- Liquid tinctures or syrups
To treat a sore throat or cough, you’ll want to take marshmallow root in a form that helps coat the throat, such as tea, tinctures, syrups, or lozenges. To treat irritated or inflamed skin, you can apply salves or creams made from marshmallow root.
Supplement manufacturers often recommend taking marshmallow root capsules with water, while tinctures usually add water to the liquid. Marshmallow root can also make it harder for your body to absorb other medications. You should wait at least two hours to take additional medication after taking marshmallow root.
How much marshmallow root you take will depend on the type of marshmallow root supplement or skin care product you use. For dosage information, follow the directions on your marshmallow supplement or topical cream.
Manufacturers will also provide instructions for preparing products such as loose leaf tea.
Additional dosage guidelines based on reviews and studies of marshmallow root include:
- Marshmallow root tea (dried marshmallow root):Brew a tea of 0.55 grams (g) of marshmallow root in 150 milliliters of water and drink up to three times a day.
- Mallow root tinctures, syrups or liquids:Drop 28 milliliters (ml) of the extract into your mouth once a day.
- Mallow root creams or salves:Children aged three to 12 can sign up safely1% marshmallow root cream on the skin twice a day or three times a week. Adults have safely applied up to 20% marshmallow root ointment.
Marshmallow root is considered safe for most people, and allergic reactions are extremely rare. Also, a recent Polish study showed that herbal products containing marshmallow root did not have high levels of heavy metals.
There is no information about whether marshmallow root is safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding. For this reason, some pregnant and breastfeeding women may choose to avoid marshmallow root.
Potential drug interactions
The mucilage compound in marshmallow root can affect how other oral medications are absorbed in your digestive tract. This can make oral medications less effective if taken with marshmallow root. As a precaution, you should wait to take the medicine until two to six hours after taking marshmallow root.
Marshmallow root may also interact directly with lithium (Priadel) and diabetes medications. Taking marshmallow root can make it harder for the body to get rid of lithium, increasing the amount of lithium in the body to potentially dangerous levels.
Marshmallow root can also lower blood sugar, increasing the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) when combined with diabetes medications.
Where to find
You can find marshmallow root online and in health food stores, pharmacies, and supplement stores. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not verify the safety of dietary supplement claims or ingredients. Manufacturers of marshmallow root supplements are responsible for ensuring that their products are safe and effective. However, they do not have to prove these claims.
Therefore, the quality, ingredients, and dosages of marshmallow root supplements can vary. To increase your chances of choosing a quality product, look for marshmallow root products that have been third-party tested for quality control, safety, and efficacy.
Can you take too much marshmallow root?
There is not enough research to confirm the toxic level of marshmallow root when ingested or applied topically. The US Food and Drug Administration categorizes the amount of marshmallow root found in foods as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Although GRAS does not apply to marshmallow root supplements, available supplement doses do not appear to cause harm.
As a precaution, you should follow the dosage and frequency suggestions for your particular marshmallow root product. You should also talk to your doctor before taking large doses of marshmallow root.
Marshmallow root has no officially reported side effects other than rare allergic reactions. However, anecdotal reports indicate that taking the supplement may cause an upset stomach and dizziness.
Signs of an allergic reaction after taking marshmallow root may include:
Get emergency medical help right away if you have trouble breathing, confusion, and a fast heart rate after taking marshmallow root. These are signs of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.
Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) has been around for centuries as an herbal cough remedy. Today, you can still take marshmallow root tea, tinctures, and lozenges to relieve sore throats and dry coughs.
Mallow root helps coat and protect the throat due to a gelatinous substance called mucilage, which also offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Topical marshmallow root creams and salves can also help reduce skin irritation and heal wounds associated with eczema and damaged skin. However, more human-based research is needed to confirm the health benefits of marshmallow root.
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