Medical Herbs Catalogue

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Family: N.O. Malvaceae The large and important family of Mallows are most abundant in the tropical region, where they form a large proportion of the vegetation; towards the poles they gradually decrease in number. Lindley states that about a thousand species had been discovered, all of which not only contain much mucilage, but are totally devoid of unwholesome properties. Besides the medicinal virtues of somany species, some are employed as food; the bark of others affords a substitute for hemp; the cotton of commerce is obtained from the seed vessels of yet other species, and many ornamental garden flowers are also members of this group, the Hibiscus and our familiar Hollyhock among the number.

MALLOW, MARSH Common Marshmallow
(Althaea officinalis LINN.)
Click on graphic for larger image Botanical Name: Althaea officinalis (LINN.) Description Cultivation Parts Used Constituents Medicinal Action and Uses Recipes Preparations and Dosages
Synonyms: Mallards. Mauls. Schloss Tea. Cheeses. Mortification Koot.
(French) Guimauve.
Parts Used: Leaves, root, flowers.
Habitat: Marsh Mallow is a native of most countries of Europe, from Denmark southward. It grows in salt marshes, in damp meadows, by the sides of ditches, by the sea and on the banks of tidal rivers.

In this country it is local, but occurs in most of the maritime counties in the south of England, ranging as far north as Lincolnshire. In Scotland it has been introduced.

Description: The stems, which die down in the autumn, are erect, 3 to 4 feet high, simple, or putting out only a few lateral branches. The leaves, shortly petioled, are roundish, ovate-cordate, 2 to 3 inches long, and about 1 1/4 inch broad, entire or three to five lobed, irregularly toothed at the margin, and thick. They are soft and velvety on both sides, due to a dense covering of stellate hairs. The flowers are shaped like those of the common Mallow, but are smaller and of a pale colour, and are either axillary, or in panicles, more often the latter.

The stamens are united into a tube, the anthers, kidney-shaped and one-celled. The flowers are in bloom during August and September, and are followed, as in other species of this order, by the flat, round fruit called popularly 'cheeses.'

The common Mallow is frequently called by country people, 'Marsh Mallow,' but the true Marsh Mallow is distinguished from all the other Mallows growing in 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, whitishyellow outside, white and fibrous within.

The whole plant, particularly the root, abounds with a mild mucilage, which is emollient to a much greater degree than the common Mallow. The generic name, Althaea, is derived from the Greek, altho (to cure), from its healing properties. The name of the order, Malvaceae, is derived from the Greek, malake (soft), from the special qualities of the Mallows in softening and healing.

Most of the Mallows have been used as food, and are mentioned by early classic writers in this connexion. Mallow was an esculent vegetable among the Romans, a dish of Marsh Mallow was one of their delicacies.

The Chinese use some sort of Mallow in their food, and Prosper Alpinus stated (in 1592) that a plant of the Mallow kind was eaten by the Egyptians. Many of the poorer inhabitants of Syria, especially the Fellahs, Greeks and Armenians, subsist for weeks on herbs, of which Marsh Mallow is one of the most common. When boiled first and fried with onions and butter, the roots are said to form a palatable dish, and in times of scarcity consequent upon the failure of the crops, this plant, which fortunately grows there in great abundance, is much collected for food.

In Job XXX. 4 we read of Mallow being eaten in time of famine, but it is doubtful whether this was really a true mallow. Canon Tristram thinks it was some saline plant; perhaps the Orache, or Sea-Purslane.

Horace and Martial mention the laxative properties of the Marsh Mallow leaves and root, and Virgil tells us of the fondness of goats for the foliage of the Mallow.

Dioscorides extols it as a remedy, and in ancient days it was not only valued as a medicine, but was used, especially the Musk Mallow, to decorate the graves of friends.

Pliny said: 'Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him.' All Mallows contain abundant mucilage, and the Arab physicians in early times used the leaves as a poultice to suppress inflammation.

Preparations of Marsh Mallow, on account of their soothing qualities, are still much used by country people for inflammation, outwardly and inwardly, and are used for lozenge-making. French druggists and English sweetmeat-makers prepare a confectionary paste (Pâét‚ de Guimauve) from the roots of Marsh Mallow, which is emollient and soothing to a sore chest, and valuable in coughs and hoarseness. The 'Marsh Mallows' usually sold by confectioners here are a mixture of flour, gum, egg-albumin, etc., and contain no mallow.

In France, the young tops and tender leaves of Marsh Mallow are eaten uncooked, in spring salads, for their property in stimulating the kidneys, a syrup being made from the roots for the same purpose.

Cultivation: Marsh Mallow used always to be cultivated in gardens on account of its medicinal qualities. It is said to have been introduced by the Romans.

It can be raised from seed, sown in spring, but cuttings will do well, and offsets of the root, carefully divided in autumn, when the stalks decay, are satisfactory, and will grow of their own accord.

Plant about 2 feet apart. It will thrive in any soil or situation, but grows larger in moist than in dry land, and could well be cultivated on unused ground in damp localities near ditches or streams.

Parts Used: Leaves, root and flowers. The leaves are picked in August, when the flowers are just coming into bloom. They should be stripped off singly and gathered only on a fine day, in the morning, after the dew has been dried off by the sun.

Constituents: Marsh Mallow contains starch, mucilage, pectin, oil, sugar, asparagin, phosphate of lime, glutinous matter and cellulose.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The great demulcent and emollient properties of Marsh Mallow make it useful in inflammation and irritation of the alimentary canal, and of the urinary and respiratory organs. The dry roots boiled in water give out half their weight of a gummy matter like starch. Decoctions of the plant, especially of the root, are very useful where the natural mucus has been abraded from the coats of the intestines, The decoction can be made by adding 5 pints of water to 1/4 lb. of dried root, boiling down to 3 pints and straining: it should not be made too thick and viscid. It is excellent in painful complaints of the urinary organs, exerting a relaxing effect upon the passages, as well as acting curatively. This decoction is also effective in curing bruises, sprains or any ache in the muscles or sinews. In haemorrhage from the urinary organs and in dysentery, it has been recommended to use the powdered root boiled in milk. The action of Marsh Mallow root upon the bowels is unaccompanied by any astringency.

Boiled in wine or milk, Marsh Mallow will relieve diseases of the chest, constituting a popular remedy for coughs, bronchitis, whooping-cough, etc., generally in combination with other remedies. It is frequently given in the form of a syrup, which is best adapted to infants and children.

RECIPES Marsh Mallow Water
'Soak one ounce of marsh mallow roots in a little cold water for half an hour; peel off the bark, or skin; cut up the roots into small shavings, and put them into a jug to stand for a couple of hours; the decoction must be drunk tepid, and may be sweetened with honey or sugar-candy, and flavoured with orange-flower water, or with orange juice. Marshmallow water may be used with good effect in all cases of inveterate coughs, catarrhs, etc.' (Francatelli's Cook's Guide.)

For Gravel, etc.
'Put the flower and plant (all but the root)of Marsh Mallows in a jug, pour boiling water, cover with a cloth, let it stand three hours - make it strong. If used for gravel or irritation of the kidney, take 1/2 pint as a Tea daily for four days, then stop a few days, then go on again. A teaspoonful of gin may be added when there is no tendency to inflammation.' (From a family recipe-book.)

The powdered or crushed fresh roots make a good poultice that will remove the most obstinate inflammation and prevent mortification. Its efficacy in this direction has earned for it the name of Mortification Root. Slippery Elm may be added with advantage, and the poultice should be applied to the part as hot as can be borne and renewed when dry. An infusion of 1 OZ. of leaves to a pint of boiling water is also taken frequently in wineglassful doses. This infusion is good for bathing inflamed eyes.

An ointment made from Marsh Mallow has also a popular reputation, but it is stated that a poultice made of the fresh root, with the addition of a little white bread, proves more serviceable when applied externally than the ointment. The fresh leaves, steeped in hot water and applied to the affected parts as poultices, also reduce inflammation, and bruised and rubbed upon any place stung by wasps or bees take away the pain, inflammation and swelling. Pliny stated that the green leaves, beaten with nitre and applied, drew out thorns and prickles in the flesh.

The flowers, boiled in oil and water, with a little honey and alum, have proved good as a gargle for sore throats. In France, they form one of the ingredients of the Tisane de quatre fleurs, a pleasant remedy for colds.

Preparations and Dosage: Fluid extract leaves. 1/2 to 2 drachms.

Common Marshmallow
(Malva grossheimii printed as
Malva sylvestris LINN.)
Click on graphic for larger image MALLOW, BLUE Botanical Name: Malva sylvestris (LINN.) Synonym: Common Mallow.
Parts Used: Flowers, leaves. Medicinal Action and Uses Preparation and Dosage The Common or Blue Mallow is a robust plant 3 or 4 feet high, growing freely in field, hedgerows and on waste ground. Its stem is round, thick and strong, the leaves stalked, roundish, five to seven lobed, downy, with stellate hairs and the veins prominent on the underside. The flowers are showy, bright mauve-purple, with dark veins. When they first expand in June, the plant is handsome, but as the summer advances, the leaves lose their deep green colour and the stems assume a ragged appearance.

Cattle do not appear to be fond of this plant, every part of which abounds with a mild mucilage.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The use of this species of Mallow has been much superseded by Marsh Mallow, which possesses its valuable properties in a superior degree, but it is still a favourite remedy with country people where Marsh Mallow is not obtainable. The roots are not considered of much value compared with those of the Marsh Mallow, and as a rule the leaves and flowers are used only, mainly externally in fomentations and poultices. The infusion has been a popular remedy for coughs and colds, but the internal use of the leaves has fallen into disuse, giving place to Marsh Mallow root, though they are still employed as a decoction for injection, which, made strong, cures strangury and gravel.

The foliage when boiled, forms a wholesome vegetable. The seeds, or 'cheeses,' are also edible.

A tincture of the flowers, which turn blue in fading, forms a very delicate test for alkalis.

The flowers were used formerly on May Day by country people for strewing before their doors and weaving into garlands.

Preparation and Dosage: Fluid extract, 1/2 to 2 drachms.

MALLOW, MUSK Botanical Name: Malva meschata Parts Used: Leaves, root, flowers.

The Musk Mallow is not an uncommon plant in dry pastures and in hedgerows. It grows 2 feet high, with round, thick, erect stems, somewhat hairy, often purplespotted. The foliage is light-green, the lower leaves kidney-shaped, five to seven lobed, those on the stem finely divided into numerous narrow segments. The handsome rose-coloured flowers are three times the size of the Common Mallow, crowded towards the summit of the stem. It emits from its leaves a faint, musky odour, especially in warm weather, or when drawn through the hand.

This Mallow is not common in Kent and other counties, but in Essex it is very abundant.

The root is white and is the part used. It has the same virtues as the Common Mallow, but is not quite as strong, and the leaves have similar properties.

MALLOW, DWARF Botanical Name: Malva rotundifolia Part Used: Leaves.
Habitat: The Dwarf Mallow is self-fertilizing, while the other kinds are insect-visited. It is common in most parts of Europe, including Britain, and in Western Asia. In Egypt, especially upon the banks of the Nile, it is extensively cultivated and used by the natives as a pot-herb.

The Dwarf Mallow, a smaller variety than any of the other wild Mallows, is easily distinguishable by its prostrate stems and pale lilac flowers. Its leaves are heart-shaped and have also sometimes been used medicinally.

MALLOW, TREE SEA Botanical Name: Lavatera arborea Part Used: Herb.

The velvety leaves of the Sea Tree Mallow, a tall, handsome plant growing 5 or 6 feet high, on sea cliffs, on many parts of the coast, are used for sprains, steeped in hot water and laid on the injured spot.