Althea officinalis (Marshmallow) is an easily grown medicinal plant that offers a wide variety of uses for any households herbal medicine chest.
We always have lots of Althea’s growing around the garden and land of different ages to ensure a good supply of seed, leaf and root.
Today, on the 1st of August the older Althea’s, of over 10 yrs old, are in flower and the younger ones, 1-3 years old are still only in leaf. This is a hardy perennial plant that is easily sown from seed or multiplied by dividing crowns. Some of our Althea’s stand at 6.5ft tall!
As their common name Marshmallow suggests, they do like water and a cooler summer so Ireland is perfect for them.We harvest Althea leaves when the plant is in flower simply by picking them off the plant as seen here. The medicinal uses could be guessed by any Althea harvester when collecting its soft furry leaves or digging up is slimy roots.
It’s the roots that tend to be used more in clinical practice either dried or in tincture form... I’ll write about harvesting and medicine making techniques with the roots another time.
From now till September the leaves are ready for harvest from the older and younger plants here at Ivywood for drying.
Althea leaf tea is an ideal remedy for any kind of dryness in the body. It is invaluable for dryness or inflammation of the mucosa of mouth and throat. The leaf tea will soothe an inflamed tongue or gums and a dry hoarse cough. If there is infection present it can part of a tea mix with common garden plants like Self Heal flowers and leaves (Prunella vulgaris), Marigold flowers (Calendula off.), Hysssop tops (Hyssopus off.) or any Thyme.. to name a few examples. I would often put it in tea mixes for patients with a smokers cough and hoarseness. Althea leaf not only creates a nice softening and moistening coating in the mouth and throat but also soothe the irritated mucosal tissue.
It can also accompany Mullein leaves (Verbascum spp.) in tea mixes used to ‘soak up’ respiratory catarrh demonstrating its ability to also reduce excess unwanted mucus restoring that all important function of the mucous membranes.
And not just the membranes of the respiratory tract but also the digestive and urinary tract. Althea’s roots are more specific for the digestive tract than leaves but Althea leaves are the go to for urinary inflammation and irritation. Luckily, I’ve only ever experienced cystitis once in my life.. over 10 years ago when I was woken at 5am in excruciating pain. It was late summer and I rushed out to the garden to see what I could get my hands on. I picked some Althea leaves and the inside strands of ‘silk’ of a corn cob! I made a tea of this mix and didn’t wait long for it to infuse. Within ten minutes of taking the infusion and passing urine the pain was gone. I remember being so grateful to have Althea growing there ready to come to my rescue.
Althea leaves are can be used much like Plantain as a spit poultice for insect stings and bites. We also like to add it to infusions made to soothe red irritated eye infections. It combines well with Calendula flowers, Goldenseal roots or Ju Hua flowers to take away the soreness, heat and infection.
If you have Althea growing use it fresh by enjoy munching on its leaves or adding into salads and pestos