Althaea officinalis
by Lindsay Wolsey
Marshmallow. Just seeing the word brings to mind the fluffy, sugar laden pillows sold so readily in grocery stores. Originally, marshmallows were made from the root of the marshmallow plant, although today they are made from corn syrup, sugar and gelatin. The Marshmallow plant looks nothing like its sugary namesake. In most places, it appears as a virtual mat, hugging the ground. In rich, moist areas it may attain a foot or more in height.

Marshmallow flourishes in the wild and in the garden. Many people struggle vainly against it, trying to remove the “weed” from their garden. Dr. Christopher said that we should be grateful that it comes back, and instead of trying to obliterate it, we should honor and use it. The most common form of Marshmallow is Malva Neglecta. It is also known as cheesies, because of the cheese shaped seeds it produces. Althea officinalis is more commonly seen in England and Europe. Althea officinalis is a taller species with mauve or blue flowers.

Unlike most herbalists, Dr. Christopher used marshmallow to treat gangrene. He had numerous success stories, including several where the medical profession wanted to amputate the gangrenous limbs. The patients would hurry to Dr. Christopher, who would tell them to make a strong decoction of marshmallow root, and use it either in fomentations, or to soak the afflicted limb. He would also tell his patients to drink cups of marshmallow tea.

Marshmallow is also a diuretic and is good for the kidneys. One of Dr. Christopher's students gave her a son a marshmallow root to chew on when he was doubled over in pain from severe kidney pain from being unable to void his urine. Within seconds of chewing the root he was able to void his urine, and received relief from the excruciating pain.

Other uses of Marshmallow include soothing and healing to the inflamed respiratory, alimentary, intestinal, and genitourinary areas. It has been used for mastitis, skin irritations, and in sitz baths to relieve rectal irritations. It is also helpful in dealing with gravel, inflammation of the kidneys, cystitis, and bladder infections. The herb is mainly used internally, especially for bronchial afflictions. It can also be used for constipation.

Historically, Marshmallow has been used by a variety of people for a variety of ailments. Hippocrates felt that it was of immense value in the treatment of wounds. Charlemagne demanded that it be cultivated in his domain. The ancient Arabs used the leaves to suppress inflammation, sores and swelling. The Egyptians ate mallow for food. In France, the tops and tender leaves of Marshmallow were used in spring salads to stimulate the kidneys. Gypsy babies chew Marshmallow roots to help them with their teething.

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