Marshmallow is one of the most valuable demulcent herbs for the gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary tract. Modern day "marshmallow candy" does not contain the herb but was inspired by its mucilaganeous extracts.
The roots, leaves and flowers are all rich in polysaccharides that yield viscous mucilage when extracted in water. This "slimy" liquid coats and protects mucous membranes directly in the digestive tract to relieve heartburn, stomach ulcers and sore throats. Because mucilage is a type of fiber, marshamallow has a bulk laxative effect and can be used for both constipation & diarrhea.
Marshmallow has a mysterious indirect "reflex" action on the lungs and urinary tract. It is used as an adjuctive herb for urinary tract infection to soothe burning pain in the bladder and is sometimes added to formulas to treat bladder infections.
It is used to treat inflammation of the lungs and airways because it moistens and soothes a dry irritated cough. In addition to its demulcent effect, research shows it acts as an antitussive and bronchodilator. However unlike stimulatory herbs like ephedra, the mechanism is unrelated to B-adrenergic receptors, making it appropriate for people with hypertension.
Marshmallow's vulnerary properties are supported by research: polysaccharides stimulate tissue regeneration that helps to heal ulcers and wounds. It does possess some antibacterial activity against gram postive baceria (e.g. Staphylococcus aureus) but not gram negative bacteria. Externally the herb is applied to ulcers, boils and abscesses.
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