Meet the Other Mallow
Plant name: Marshmallow root
Latin name: Althaea officinalis (Malvaceae)
Parts used: Roots
Sourced from: Oregon, USA
When we think of marshmallow, the first thing that comes to mind is decidedly not a plant. But it’s true, the origin of everyone’s favorite sticky-sweet campfire treat is actually a root.
While the soft and fluffy marshmallows we buy today are made from processed sugar instead of plant matter, the original recipe for this pillowy confection included only three ingredients: marshmallow root, whipped eggs and sugar. When the French invented this gooey treat in the 1800s, it was mainly used as a lozenge for soothing coughs before it caught on as a dessert.
Marshmallow the plant has long been used as both food and medicine. It was feasted upon by the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians and also used in herbal remedies. Its botanical name Althaea officinalis from the order Malvaceae, is derived from the Greek malake, meaning “soft,” and althos “to cure.” Pliny the Elder even went so far as to say that “Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the mallows shall be free that day from all diseases that may come.”
HOW IS MARSHMALLOW ROOT GOOD FOR MY SKIN AND HEALTH?
Marshmallow roots contain high levels of mucilage, a thick, gluey substance that plants secrete to help them store water, germinate their seeds and heal their cuts. Mucilage is extremely soothing and provides anti-inflammatory properties to humans. Marshmallow root is known to be helpful for calming irritated skin, wounds, swollen joints and muscles, inflamed glands, hemorrhoids, burns, sore throats and more. When taken internally, marshmallow root is particularly beneficial for the respiratory, digestive and genito-urinary systems.
Protective & soothing
Mucilage also lends marshmallow root demulcent and emollient properties. Demulcents form a soothing film over mucous membranes, relieving minor pain and inflammation. This makes marshmallow root helpful for dealing with a sore throat, dry cough or other respiratory issues. As an emollient, marshmallow root works to hydrate and protect the skin. It holds water exceedingly well, coating the skin to keep hydration in and prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL). (Read more about TEWL in our blog post about hydrosols.) That makes it wonderful for soothing and protecting eczema and dry, sensitive, maturing or irritated skin.
Ayurvedic medicine describes marshmallow root as energetically cold and moistening, while other cultures describe it as softening and good for “opening the body” when dealing with a fever. Marshmallow root has been used to ease digestive cramps, relieve constipation, clear the lungs, aid in delivering babies and remove pain and swelling from wounds like bee stings. Marshmallow root can be used in skincare or taken internally to help hydrate, heal and soften the body both inside and out.
MARSHMALLOW ROOT IS SUSTAINABLE AND GOOD FOR THE SOIL
Mucilaginous herbs have long been prized for their anti-inflammatory and soothing effects. Historically, slippery elm was among the most popular mucilaginous plants to be harvested for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately, due to disease and overharvesting, slippery elm is now endangered. Rather than turning to the slow-growing elm for mucilaginous benefits, herbalists can use marshmallow as a sustainable alternative.
Marshmallow plants are found widely across Europe, North America and Asia. They grow heartily in most soils, but prefer marshy or wet soil (which is how these plants got their name). Marshmallow is a fast-growing perennial plant that puts down a thick taproot. These roots help to aerate and feed the soil as they fix carbon out of the atmosphere and into the ground.
HERE ARE THE PRODUCTS THAT WE USE MARSHMALLOW ROOT IN
At Meow Meow Tweet, we use marshmallow root sourced from growers in Oregon, using the powdered form, which is physically exfoliating, in our Matcha Lime Exfoliant Mask. Normally, we are hesitant to use extractions in our formulas because they are labor intensive, and so they increase the cost of the final product (affordability for our customers is important to us). In the case of our Chamomile Yarrow Gel Face Toner, we produced our own in-house extraction of marshmallow root because it is such a powerful hydrator, and we didn’t feel this product could do without its potency.
An Ode to Marshmallow
Mallow, many think you fallow
Your humble root and forgettable flower, passed o’er
We extracted a sticky essence from your rooty knot
It’s potent and lovable, even though it looks like snot
Oh, mallow, soften my cheeks, tear the dullness asunder
Soothe my cough, heal all my skin’s blunders
Lend your healing, calming properties, tender plant, diminutive tree
Give them back to humble adoring me