Marshmallow root was the first herb I fell in love with when I really started my journey down the plant medicine path…. Maybe because of my dry skin nature, and the fact that I live in the arid climate of Denver, the way that this herb hydrated both internally and externally when consumed feels so comforting. Also… the word just sounds fun and leaves images of hot chocolate overflowing with marshmallows in my mind! But the Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows are quite different from the plant they get their namesake from.
With the Latin name Althaea officinalis, marshmallow comes from the Malvaceae also known as the mallow family. This plant is native to most countries in Europe and grows in damp salt marshes. Marshmallow is a species of mallow, and you can find common mallow growing around Denver and it has many of the same healing benefits of marshmallow! Both the root and leaves are used as plant medicine both internally and topically.
Marshmallow root for internal use:
Marshmallow root is fantastic as a tissue supportive ingredient to add to a tea. It is highly anti-inflammatory, and demulcent, meaning that it relieved internal irritation. Marshmallow root is rich in a substance called mucilage. Mucilage is a thick gooey glue-like substance that helps to form a protective film over mucous membranes. This makes it very helpful for recovering from a cough, sore throat bronchitis, or other respiratory illnesses. Marshmallow is beautiful to improve digestion and to get things going. Additionally, marshmallow may be helpful for repairing and fortifying the gut lining. (Hello eczema, acne, and other inflammatory skin issues!) You can see first hand how yummy it is for this because after you steep this overnight for a morning beverage, you can see and feel the viscous/gelatinous consistency of the raw herb that is just so good for healing and moisturizing!
Marshmallow root for Topical use:
Marshmallow is a mucopolysaccharide-when broken down this word just basically means “many sticky sugars.” Another term used for this is Glycosaminoglycans (you sometimes see this abbreviated as GAGs) This type of ingredient helps to provide structural support to collagen and elastin! Hold the phone, a plant can do that?? You bet! It also means that these types of ingredients are also super healing to impaired skin. Marshmallow is emollient, meaning it moisturizes tissue without clogging pores, and it is deeply wound healing. This is basically a superstar for mature, dry, sensitive, red, and/or rashy skin, but also for acne, as don’t forget, acne is a sensitive skin issue.
Unfortunately, the modern marshmallow we roast over a campfire is not medicine, but today’s marshmallows do have herbal “roots.” (Pun intended). According to the book Viable Herbal Solutions:
"Nineteenth-century doctors extracted juice from the marshmallow plant's roots and cooked it with egg whites and sugar, then whipped the mixture into a foamy meringue that later hardened, creating a medicinal candy used to soothe children's sore throats. Eventually, advanced manufacturing processes and improved texturing agents eliminated the need for the gooey root juice altogether. Unfortunately, that eliminated the confection's healing properties as a cough suppressant, immune system booster, and wound healer." This method was used until the mid-1800s, and today marshmallows are of course made with corn syrup or sugar, gelatin, gum arabic, and flavoring.
It's clear marshmallow is a heavy hitter to relieve inflammation, soothe, hydrate, and restore the body and the skin. You can find marshmallow root in the Fresh Mild Rice Facial Cleanser. Marshmallow is a lovely plant to grow in your garden. If you want to incorporate marshmallow into your life more regularly, you can also purchase organic marshmallow root to incorporate into a tea blend at your local apothecary or online through a trusted source. For a tea, it is best to leave the herb in water for 12 hours before drinking to fully extract all of the benefits.
To make a marshmallow infused oil:
Start by choosing a shelf-stable oil. If you choose an oil with a shorter shelf life, plan to use it before it turns rancid (rancid oils are going to cause way more problems on your skin than they are helping). You also want to do your research on this oil and be sure that it is appropriate for your skin type. (Yes some oils are amazing and clarifying for acne-prone skin but that is a topic for another blog post).
1 oz dried marshmallow root coarsely chopped and/or ground
8 oz oil of choice
Cleaned quart-sized jar (if it is a clear jar it needs to be kept in a cool place out of the light)
½ oz 190 proof alcohol like Everclear (this can be purchased at your local liquor store).
8 oz dark glass dropper bottle to transfer oil to
- Directions: Coarsely grind the dried marshmallow root with a coffee grinder (this step is not necessary if the rood is already quite chopped, but it will allow for a more thorough extraction). DO not grind too finely because it will be next to impossible to strain the herb through the cheesecloth and you will have sediment in your oil.
- Add ground herb to the bowl
- Add ½ oz alcohol and mix (you can do this with clean or gloved hands)
- The herb should feel cool and the consistency of wet sand
- Let sit for around 3 hours
- Add the herb to the jar
- Cover with oil
- Seal the jar and store it in a dark, cool, dry place for 2 weeks, shaking every two days.
- Strain the oil with the cheesecloth and add to the dropper bottle. You can add and essential oil or two (some of my favorites for the skin include lavender, vetiver, rose, frankincense, carrot seed, or helichrysum essential oil)
*note this particular method should only be used for dry herbs. I like this method because I feel that alcohol extracts the maximum amount of goodness from the herb, and it is less likely to become contaminated due to the preservative nature alcohol provides.