Althea Identification: Althea is an erect perennial herb, reaching a height of up to 2 to 4 feet. The leaves are stalked, three to five lobed, pale green, and velvety with stellate gray hairs. In the first year it grows a non-flowering stem. The light red to pale pink or white flowers appear from June to September in the second year. Red united stamens grow on short stalks in the upper axils. The sepals are ovate, curving over the hairy fruit. The flower petals are sometimes shallowly notched, and have purplish anthers.
Habitat: Althea’s original habitat was in salty marshes or wet, brackish uncultivated ground in southern Europe, but it is now established throughout southern Britain and Europe, Australia and eastern North America. It is cultivated in Belgium, France and Germany.
Family: Malvacia (Mallow family)
Other Names: Mallards, Marshmallow, Schloss Tea, Mortification Root,
Sweet Weed, Hock Herb, Wymote, Mauls, Cheeses.
Flowers: June – September (In the second year.)
Parts Used: Roots, leaves, and flowers.
History: The name Althea is derived from the Greek Altho, meaning to heal, and its medicinal qualities have been recognized since Ancient Egyptian times. Theophrastus reported that the root could be added to sweet wine to relieve coughs. Horace and Martial mentioned the laxative properties of the leaves and root; and Pliny wrote that “whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him”. Marshmallow is mentioned in the Bible and in Arabic and Chinese history as a valuable food during times of famine.
Constituents: Root – 15 to 20% mucilage (consisting largely of xylan and glucoseans), flavonoid glycosides, phenolic acids, tannins, up to 11% pectin, apraragin, up to 38% starch, polysaccharides, phytosterols, fatty
acid, esters, and a lecithin.
Leaves – Up to 10% mucilage, flavonoids, and traces of an essential oil.
Properties: Root – Demulcent, Diuretic, Emollient, and Vulnerary.
Leaf – Demulcent, Expectorant, Diuretic, Emollient, and Antilithic.
Flowers – Expectorant.
Main Uses: The althea root is used in all inflammations of the digestive tract including mouth ulcers, hiatus hernia, gastritis, peptic ulcer, enteritis and colitis. Althea contains large amounts of mucilage, making it an excellent demulcent which coats the gastrointestinal mucosa, particularly in the mouth and pharynx, thus protecting them from local irritation, and it relieves excess stomach acid. It is also mildly laxative. Externally, the root is used in varicose veins and ulcers as well as in abscesses and boils, and it is used in cosmetics for weather-damaged skin. The peeled root may be given to teething babies to chew on. Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects have also been reported.
The leaves of althea are an effective treatment for bronchitis, respiratory catarrh, irritating coughs, urethritis, and urinary gravel. It is used locally for abscesses, boils and ulcers. Its demulcent action helps to relieve dry coughs, bronchial asthma and pleurisy and soothes sore throats. Taken as a warm infusion, the leaves help to relieve cystitis and urinary frequency.
Combinations: For pulmonary problems, Althea may be combined with Coltsfoot. It may also by used with Lobelia for coughs; and with Slippery Elm as a poultice or ointment for wounds, ulcers, boils and eczema.
Preparation and Dosages:
Caution: When using the tincture for digestive disorders, hot water should be used to reduce the alcohol content. Cold water extracts should be made if the mucilage content is to be preserved. However, since starch will not dissolve in cold water, if the root is to be used as a gargle for tonsillitis and inflamed gums, where the starch will be of benefit, it should be prepared with hot water.
The althea leaves develop their mucilaginous content after flowering. The roots should be gathered in spring or fall and peeled before using. Since the infusion and decoction tend to be gelatinous, use the cold extract method to make the tea.
Cold Extract: Use 1 to 2 tablespoons root or leaves with 1 cup cold water. Let stand for 8 hours, then strain. Take 1 cup a day, cold or slightly warmed up.
Infusion: Use 2 tablespoons flowers and leaves to 1 cup boiling water; steep for 5 minutes.
Decoction: Use 1 teaspoon root to 1 cup boiling water. Simmer until the desired consistency is obtained.
Tincture: A dose of the tincture is 20 to 40 drops.
Poultice: Mix grated root with honey and obtain a thick mash. Spread on a linen cloth and apply. Renew every 2 to 3 hours.