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Althaea officinalis - L.                
                 
Common Name Marsh Mallow, Common marshmallow
Family Malvaceae
Synonyms Althaea sublobata. Althaea taurinensis. Althaea vulgaris. Malva officinalis.
Known Hazards No documented adverse effects but anecdotal reports allergic reaction and lower blood sugar.
Habitats The upper margins of salt and brackish marshes, sides of ditches and grassy banks near the sea[7, 17].
Range Central and southern Europe, including Britain, to N. Africa and W. Asia.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Care
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun

Summary       

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Althaea officinalis is a PERENNIAL growing to 1.2 m (4ft) by 0.8 m (2ft 7in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees. self.The plant is self-fertile.


USDA hardiness zone : Coming soon


Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

Althaea officinalis Marsh Mallow, Common marshmallow


(c) 2010 Ken Fern, Plants For A Future
Althaea officinalis Marsh Mallow, Common marshmallow
(c) 2010 Ken Fern, Plants For A Future
   
Habitats       
 Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves;  Oil;  Root.
Edible Uses: Egg;  Oil;  Tea.

Leaves - raw or cooked[2, 4, 100]. They are used as a potherb or to thicken soups[62, 183]. When used as a small proportion with other leaves, the taste and texture is acceptable, but if a lot of the leaves are cooked together their mucilaginous texture makes them unpalatable[K]. The leaves can be eaten raw but are rather fibrous and somewhat hairy, though the taste is mild and pleasant[K]. We have found them to be quite acceptable in salads when chopped up finely[K]. Root - raw or cooked[61]. When boiled and then fried with onions it is said to make a palatable dish that is often used in times of shortage[4]. The root is used as a vegetable[62, 141, 183], it is also dried then ground into a powder, made into a paste and roasted to make the sweet 'marshmallow'[4, 5, 7, 17, 61]. The root contains about 37% starch, 11% mucilage, 11% pectin[254]. The water left over from cooking any part of the plant can be used as an egg-white substitute in making meringues etc[62]. The water from the root is the most effective[183], it is concentrated by boiling until it has a similar consistency to egg white. A tea is made from the flowers[183]. A tea can also be made from the root[183].
Medicinal Uses


Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Antidiarrhoeal;  Antitussive;  Demulcent;  Diuretic;  Emollient;  Laxative;  Odontalgic.

Marsh mallow is a very useful household medicinal herb. Its soothing demulcent properties make it very effective in treating inflammations and irritations of the mucous membranes such as the alimentary canal, the urinary and the respiratory organs[4, 254]. The root counters excess stomach acid, peptic ulceration and gastritis[254]. It is also applied externally to bruises, sprains, aching muscles, insect bites, skin inflammations, splinters etc[4, 238]. The whole plant, but especially the root, is antitussive, demulcent, diuretic, highly emollient, slightly laxative and odontalgic[4, 17, 21, 46, 165]. An infusion of the leaves is used to treat cystitis and frequent urination[254]. The leaves are harvested in August when the plant is just coming into flower and can be dried for later use[4]. The root can be used in an ointment for treating boils and abscesses[254]. The root is best harvested in the autumn, preferably from 2 year old plants, and is dried for later use[238]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Althaea officinalis Marsh Mallow for irritation of mouth and throat and associated dry cough/bronchitis (Root and leaf), mild stomach lining inflammation (root) (see [302] for critics of commission E).
Other Uses
Adhesive;  Fibre;  Oil;  Teeth.

The dried root is used as a toothbrush or is chewed by teething children[6, 7]. It has a mechanical affect on the gums whilst also helping to ease the pain. The root is also used as a cosmetic, helping to soften the skin[7]. A fibre from the stem and roots is used in paper-making[46, 61, 74, 115]. The dried and powdered root has been used to bind the active ingredients when making pills for medicinal use[268]. A glue can be made from the root[74]. The root is boiled in water until a thick syrup is left in the pan, this syrup is used as a glue. An oil from the seed is used in making paints and varnishes[74].
Cultivation details                                         
Succeeds in almost any soil and situation[1, 4, 200], though it prefers a rich moist soil in a sunny position[4, 200]. It also tolerates fairly dry soil conditions[1]. Plants are hardy to about -25°c[187]. Marsh mallow is often cultivated in the herb garden, as a culinary and medicinal herb as well as for ornament[61]. Its roots were at one time the source of the sweet 'marsh mallow', but this sweet is now made without using the plant[4].
                                                                                 
Propagation                                         
Seed - sow spring or autumn in a cold frame. The seed is best sown as soon as it is ripe in late summer, the germination is often erratic[238]. Stratification can improve germination rates and time. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out in the summer[K]. Division in spring or autumn. Fairly easy, it is best to pot up the divisions in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are growing away well and then plant them out into their permanent positions. Root cuttings in December.
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Expert comment                                         
 
      
Author                                         
L.
                                                                                 
Botanical References                                         
17200
                                                                                 
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[5]Mabey. R. Food for Free.
Edible wild plants found in Britain. Fairly comprehensive, very few pictures and rather optimistic on the desirability of some of the plants.
[6]Mabey. R. Plants with a Purpose.
Details on some of the useful wild plants of Britain. Poor on pictures but otherwise very good.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[17]Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles.
A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[62]Elias. T. and Dykeman. P. A Field Guide to N. American Edible Wild Plants.
Very readable.
[74]Komarov. V. L. Flora of the USSR.
An immense (25 or more large volumes) and not yet completed translation of the Russian flora. Full of information on plant uses and habitats but heavy going for casual readers.
[100]Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide.
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.
[115]Johnson. C. P. The Useful Plants of Great Britain.
Written about a hundred years ago, but still a very good guide to the useful plants of Britain.
[141]Carruthers. S. P. (Editor) Alternative Enterprises for Agriculture in the UK.
Some suggested alternative commercial crops for Britain. Readable. Produced by a University study group.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[187]Phillips. R. & Rix. M. Perennials Volumes 1 and 2.
Photographs of over 3,000 species and cultivars of ornamental plants together with brief cultivation notes, details of habitat etc.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[254]Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.
[268]Stuart. M. (Editor) The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism
Excellent herbal with good concise information on over 400 herbs.
[302]From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Commission E
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commission_E

Readers comment                                         
 
Elizabeth H.
Marinella Zepigi Tue Jun 10 2008

Acta plantarum forum botanico Althaea officinalis L. - Description - Photos

Elizabeth H.
Julie Johnson Sun Jul 6 2008
I find your website to be extremely informative and useful. I have two wishes. I wish that you listed regions in North America where these could be found, and I also wish that you had pictures on them. Nevertheless, thanks for all that you have done!
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