Althaea officinalis

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Althaea officinalis
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae
Genus: Althaea
A. officinalis
Binomial name
Althaea officinalis
  • Althaea kragujevacensis Pančić ex Diklić & Stevan.
  • Althaea micrantha Wiesb. ex Borbás
  • Althaea sublobata Stokes
  • Althaea taurinensis DC.
  • Althaea vulgaris Bubani
  • Malva althaea E.H.L.Krause
  • Malva maritima Salisb.
  • Malva officinalis (L.) Schimp. & Spenn. ex Schimp. & Spenn.
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Althaea officinalis, the marsh mallow[2] or marshmallow,[3] is a species of flowering plant indigenous to Europe, Western Asia and North Africa, which is used in herbalism and as an ornamental plant. A confection made from the root since ancient Egyptian times evolved into today's marshmallow treat,[4] but most modern marshmallow treats no longer contain any marsh-mallow root.[5]


This herbaceous perennial (i.e. with stems which die down in the autumn) grows to 180 cm (6 ft) tall and puts out only a few lateral branches. The whole plant is softly stellate-hairy, especially the leaves, which are broadly triangular to oval, often with 3-5 shallow lobes, irregularly toothed, with cordate to cuneate bases. Leaf size varies considerably, up to 100 mm (4 in) long, and 75 mm (3 in) wide. The leaves are arranged alternately along the stem, with no stipules, on petioles up to 45 mm (1.75 in).[6][7]

The inflorescences occur in the leaf axils and at the top of the stem and consist of panicles of 1-many flowers. The flowers are actinomorphic with 5 lilac/pink petals up to 2 cm long and 5 green sepals which are much shorter than the petals, and fused at the base. Below the petals is a cup-shaped epicalyx with 6-9 narrow, triangular lobes, half the length of the sepals. The purple stamens are united into a tube, the anthers kidney-shaped and one-celled. There is one style which protrudes above the stamen tube.[8] [9]

The flowers are in bloom during August and September, and are followed, as in other species of this order, by the flat, round fruit which are popularly called "cheeses". The whole fruit is a schizocarp, about 1 cm in diameter, which splits into about 20 kidney-shaped mericarps (seeds) about 2 mm long.[8]

The common mallow is frequently called "marsh mallow" in colloquial terms, but the true marsh mallow is distinguished from all the other mallows growing in Great Britain by the numerous divisions of the outer calyx (six to nine cleft), by the hoary down which thickly clothes the stems and foliage, and by the numerous panicles of blush-coloured flowers, paler than the common mallow. The roots are perennial, thick, long and tapering, very tough and pliant, whitish yellow outside, white and fibrous within.


Chemical constituents include altheahexacosanyl lactone (n-hexacos-2-enyl-1,5-olide), 2β-hydroxycalamene (altheacalamene) and altheacoumarin glucoside (5,6-dihydroxycoumarin-5-dodecanoate-6β-D-glucopyranoside), along with the known phytoconstituents lauric acid, β-sitosterol and lanosterol.[10]



Marshmallows are used in gardening as ornamental plants.

Herbal medicine[edit]

Marshmallow roots

The leaves, flowers and the root of A. officinalis (marshmallow) have been used in traditional herbal medicine. This use is reflected in the name of the genus, which comes from the Greek ἀλθαίνειν (althainein), meaning "to heal".[4][11][12] The Latin specific epithet officinalis indicates plants with some culinary or medicinal value.[13]

Marshmallow is traditionally used as relief for irritation of mucous membranes,[14] including use as a gargle for mouth and throat ulcers and gastric ulcers.[15]


Most of the mallows have been used as food, and are mentioned by early classic writers with this connection. Mallow was an edible vegetable among the Romans; a dish of marsh mallow was one of their delicacies. Prospero Alpini stated in 1592 that a plant of the mallow kind was eaten by the Egyptians. Many of the poorer inhabitants of Syria subsisted for weeks on herbs, of which marshmallow is one of the most common.[citation needed] When boiled first and fried with onions and butter, the roots are said to form a palatable dish,[16] and in times of scarcity consequent upon the failure of the crops, this plant, which grows there in great abundance, is collected heavily as a foodstuff.

The young leaves can be cooked. The flower buds can be pickled.[17] The roots can be peeled, sliced, boiled and sweetened to make candy. Water used to boil any part of the plant can be used as an egg white substitute.[17]

The root extract (halawa extract) is sometimes used as flavoring in the making of halva. The later French version of the recipe, called pâte de guimauve (or guimauve for short), included an egg white meringue and was often flavored with rose water. Pâte de guimauve more closely resembles contemporary commercially available marshmallows, which no longer contain Althaea officinalis.

Botanical gallery[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Althaea officinalis". Tropicos. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 2017-04-18.
  2. ^ "Althaea officinalis". RHS. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  3. ^ "Althaea officinalis". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture.
  4. ^ a b Simonetti, Gualtiero (1990). Stanley Schuler (ed.). Simon & Schuster's Guide to Herbs and Spices. Simon & Schuster, Inc. ISBN 0-671-73489-X.
  5. ^ "Marshmallows". NCA. Retrieved 2019-04-20.
  6. ^ Harrap, Simon (2013). Harrap's Wild Flowers. London: Bloomsbury Wildlife. ISBN 978-1-4729-6648-3.
  7. ^ Poland, John; Clement, Eric (2009). The Vegetative Key to the British Flora. Southampton: John Poland. ISBN 978-0-9560144-0-5.
  8. ^ a b Stace, C.A. (2019). New Flora of the British Isles. Suffolk. ISBN 978-1-5272-2630-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  9. ^ Martin Crawford, How to grow Perennial Vegetables, Green Books, 2012
  10. ^ Rani, S.; Khan, S.A.; Ali, M. (2010). "Phytochemical investigation of the seeds of Althea officinalis L". Natural Product Research. 24 (14): 1358–1364. doi:10.1080/14786411003650777. PMID 20803381. S2CID 2114777.
  11. ^ ἀλθαίνειν. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  12. ^ Harper, Douglas. "marshmallow". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  13. ^ Harrison, Lorraine (2012). RHS Latin for Gardeners. United Kingdom: Mitchell Beazley. ISBN 978-1845337315.
  14. ^ Cavero, R (2 December 2014). "Medicinal plants used for respiratory affections in Navarra and their pharmacological validation". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 158 (Part A): 216–220. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.10.003. PMID 25311273.
  15. ^ "John S. Williamson & Christy M. Wyandt 1997. Herbal therapies: The facts and the fiction. Drug topics" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-02. Retrieved 2011-09-16.
  16. ^ Grieve. A Modern Herbal. Penguin 1984 ISBN 0-14-046-440-9
  17. ^ a b Elias, Thomas S.; Dykeman, Peter A. (2009) [1982]. Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods. New York: Sterling. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-4027-6715-9. OCLC 244766414.

Further reading[edit]

Cavero, R (December 2, 2014). "Medicinal plants used for respiratory affections in Navarra and their pharmacological validation". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 158 (Part A): 216–220. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.10.003. PMID 25311273.

External links[edit]