Ultimate Guide to Marshmallow Root: Uses, Nutrition & More

4 min read

What Is Marshmallow Root?


So, let's get straight to it: is marshmallow root in marshmallows? Yes and no. Yes, the confectionary was historically made from the nutritious, sticky extract that coats the marshmallow plant's roots, but today’s marshmallows are more commonly made with gelatin [8]

Although it’s no longer used in confectionery treats, marshmallow root is still a compelling ingredient —especially because it has many additional uses beyond using it to make candy.  Traditional herbalists often recommend marshmallow root for a wide range of conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, colds, sore throats, inflamed gums, inflammatory bowel diseases, and even weight loss[4].  Wondering how one ingredient could have so many different traditional uses? We thought so. Let's dive into the history of marshmallow root!

Background

Marshmallow is a perennial plant that's indigenous to Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. Recognized scientifically as Althaea Officinalis, the plant can grow up to six feet tall and has light pink flowers. As a member of the mallow family, scientifically identified as the Malvaceae family, the marshmallow plant typically grows in wet or marshy areas, hence the name marshmallow[8].


Marshmallow root has historically been used for various ailments. The ancient Greeks first noted the medicinal value of marshmallows in the ninth century B.C. Hippocrates explained how marshmallow was used to treat wounds[4]. The Greeks also used marshmallow root to ease sore throats and created a balm from the plant's sap to soothe toothaches and bee stings. As time went on, the plant's medicinal applications grew more varied: Arab doctors made a treatment from ground marshmallow leaves and utilized it as an anti-inflammatory agent on the skin. At the same time, Romans used marshmallow root as a laxative, and other civilizations believed marshmallows affected one's libido. By the Middle Ages, marshmallow roots were used as treatments for everything ranging from an upset stomach to colds[8]. Today, the marshmallow herb is still used for a wide range of uses; and while marshmallow root has been used for millennia for various conditions, modern studies are needed to evaluate these functions, applications and uses. 

Other Names for Marshmallow Root

Marshmallow has several names, including althea, sweet weed, hock herb, mallards, mortification plant, Schloss tea, wymote, mallow, white mallow, guimauve, and common marshmallow[7]

How Marshmallow Root Works

Many of marshmallow root's traditional health benefits appear to have come from its high levels of mucilage. Mucilage is a dense, glutinous material composed of protein and polysaccharides. Found in various plants, mucilage can swell but does not dissolve in water. Plants that have mucilage use it to conserve water that later aids in germination, facilitates seed dispersal and stores food. All elements of the marshmallow plant contain varying amounts of mucilage, but the greatest concentration is found in the roots[4]

The polysaccharides in the marshmallow root mucilage coat the surfaces of the mouth, throat, and intestine, which then may help protect the tissues from irritation.  This coating probably explains why marshmallow root extract was often used to soothe a dry cough.[3]

Mucilage has antitussive (aka preventative), softening, and coating effects[6]. In natural medicine, mucilage is used as an emollient and a demulcent. An emollient is a cosmetic preparation used for protecting, moisturizing, and lubricating the skin, while a demulcent is an inflammation or irritation reliever. The mucilage in marshmallow root is the primary reason the candy, marshmallows, were made with the plant: it would thicken the marshmallows[7]

Additionally, polysaccharides in marshmallow root are absorbent fibers that blend with liquid to form a smooth and silky foundation. This foundation aids in functioning as a skin buffer, moisturizer, and protective layer for the skin, which is why the plant is found in beauty products such as lip balms, hair conditioners, salves, and after-sun lotions[5]

While marshmallow root has been used for millennia to treat various conditions, more studies are needed to confirm and elaborate upon these functions, applications and uses. 

Why is Marshmallow Root in OLIPOP?

All of our botanical ingredients work to help promote healthy digestion by feeding the microbiome that exists within all of us. Marshmallow root extract is one of the five botanicals we use in OLIPOP to help support nutrient diversity. Eating a diverse diet supports a diverse microbiome, which is directly linked to a healthy gut.

All of our botanical ingredients work to help support gut health. OLIPOP contains unique ingredients like prebiotic fibers to support a diverse and healthy gut microbiome and antioxidants to help combat oxidative stress. And the addition of marshmallow root is another positive ingredient found in OLIPOP that may play a role in keeping your gut healthy. 

Anecdotally, consuming marshmallow root can help offer some relief from mild digestive discomfort. And according to research, marshmallow root may support a healthy digestive tract.  So, including marshmallow root in OLIPOP is just one more way that we support your gut health while providing you with an utterly delicious drink. 

Conclusion

Today, you can find marshmallow root in teas, tinctures, capsules, ointment creams, delicious sodas (hint: OLIPOP), and cough syrups. While marshmallow root is considered safe for most people, you can always check with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Sources

  1. Alcaraz, M., M. Moroney, and J. Hoult. “Effects of Hypolaetin-8-O-Glucoside and Its Aglycone Inin Vivoandin VitroTests for Anti-Inflammatory Agents.” Planta Medica 55, no. 01 (February 1989): 107–8. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2006-961879.
  2. Cronkleton, Emily. “Everything You Need to Know About Marshmallow Root.” Healthline Media, September 21, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/marshmallow-root#cough-and-cold.
  3. Alexandra Deters et al., “Aqueous Extracts and Polysaccharides from Marshmallow Roots (Althea Officinalis L.): Cellular Internalisation and Stimulation of Cell Physiology of Human Epithelial Cells in Vitro,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 127, no. 1 (January 2010): 62–69, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2009.09.050.
  4. Foster, Steven, and Rebecca L. Johnson. National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine. National Geographic Books, 2008.
  5. Levy, Jillian. “Why You Should Add Marshmallow Root to Your Diet.” Dr. Axe. Accessed May 12, 2021. https://draxe.com/nutrition/marshmallow-root/.
  6. Mahdi Valiei. “Chemical Composition and Antimicrobial Activity of the Flower and Root Hexane Extracts of Althaea Officinalis in Northwest Iran.” Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 5, no. 32 (December 30, 2011). https://doi.org/10.5897/jmpr11.963.
  7. The Gypsy Thread. “Marshmallow - A Source Of Mucilage From Your Garden,” January 17, 2020. https://www.thegypsythread.org/marshmallow-mucilage/.
  8. “The Long, Sweet History of Marshmallows,” October 13, 2016. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/86346/long-sweet-history-marshmallows.
Cheat Sheet
  • Marshmallow Root is a useful and compelling ingredient known for soothing a variety of ailments and was once used to make marshmallows.
  • Many of Marshmallow Root’s alleviating abilities is due to its mucilage, a dense, glutinous material composed of protein and polysaccharides, content.
  • Marshmallow Root is one of the five botanicals we use in OLIPOP to support nutrient diversity
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