Introducing the Mallows – True friends indeed

The Mallows

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), Common Mallow (Malva neglecta), Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), and Hollyhock (Alcea rosea).

Today we are talking about a group of mucilaginous demulcents in the Mallow or Malvaceae family.  Marshmallow (Althaea Officinalis), Common Mallow (Malva Neglecta), Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), and Hollyhock (Alcea rosea), all share similar properties and uses. There are probably more Malva species used in similar ways, but these are the ones I am most familiar with.    

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    Family – Malvaceae

    Many people familiar with herbalism have heard of Marshmallow root (Althea Officinalis). Officinalis means an official medicinal variety. As an official representative of this class or group of herbs, Marshmallow is the plant of choice for commerce, (the one most often seen in stores.) However, that doesn’t mean Marshmallow is the only mallow plant with these specific properties or even that it’s the best; it simply means Althaea officinalis is the most cultivated and documented variety. Other common mallows having similar traits grow wild or in the garden. Today we will be grouping them together, Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), Hollyhock (Alcea rosea), and Common Mallow (Malva neglecta) because they can all be used interchangeably for the most part.

    How do you know which one to use? It depends on where you live and what is growing in your region. If you are ordering herbs online or purchasing from a store, you’ll probably get Marshmallow root. If you have a garden, chances are you have Common Mallow. Hollyhock is common in flower gardens across the United States. Globemallow is found throughout the west, both north and south.

    All are great cooling, soothing and moisturizing herbs. 

    Common Mallow Distribution Map

    Globemallow Distribution Map

    Marshmallow distribution map

    Marshmallow Distribution Map

    Plant Descriptions

    Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)

    Marshmallow root for UTI

    Marshmallow is an herbaceous perennial, native to Europe and Western Asia. Endangered in Europe, the plant has naturalized in the eastern United States, especially in the marshy areas around Massachusetts and Virginia.    

    This is a bushy plant growing between 2 and 4 feet tall. It has erect-branching stems and soft down covering the leaves and stems. The leaves are simple, alternate, and serrated, with 3 to 5 lobes (as in the picture.) Veins on the leaves are elevated on the underside of the underside. 

    Flowers are simple, 5-petaled and range in color from light pink to white. They are usually 1 to 1 ½ inches across and appear singularly or in small batches at a single node. The stamen column at the center of the flower is rather stout and can contain 13 or more stamens. Marshmallow blooms from between June to August, depending on its location. 

    Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

    Hollyhock is a popular flowering biennial found in many gardens across the United States. It’s usually tall, (up to 8 feet,) and thinner or less bushy than Marshmallow with brightly colored flowers, an overall a more robust plant. 

    Hollyhock arises from a stout central unbranching stem. The leaves are alternate and oval or palmately-lobed with 3 to 7 blunt lobes. The upper surface of the leaves is only sometimes soft with slightly pubescent hairs or hairless with fine veins. The underside of the leaves is light green with soft downy hairs.

    The central stem terminates in a spike-like raceme of flowers. Axillary flowers are often produced from the axils of the upper leaves. The flowers occur individually or in small clusters along the central stem, nodding sideways from short hairy pedicels. Each flower is about 3-5″ wide. Hollyhock has a long taproot that is light-colored on the inside and darker brown on the outside. This plant readily reseeds itself.

    Hollyhock flower extract

    Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea)

    Globemallow, our southwestern Mallow
    Northern Globemallow

    A long-lived perennial, Sphaeralcea coccinea is a pretty, little orange flower topping a plant that grows from 6 inches tall in the north, to up to 4 feet in some places like Arizona. The taller version is quite bushy with the leaves although smaller, still resembling those of the Hollyhock and Marshmallow. The whole plant is covered with hairs but is much more course and wiry than its cousins.  The flowers are built the same way but may only be ½ inch to 1 inch wide appearing either in terminal spikes or as individual flowers, depending on the variety and location.

    Taller Globe Mallow is a stout bushy plant with a woody main taproot. The taproot may dive deeply into the earth before it divides into lateral. Growth begins in March and April, flowering in May to July.   Earlier in the southwestern deserts, this plant is often seen flowering in March.

    Common Mallow (Malva neglecta)

    Considered an invasive weed, Common Mallow can grow year-round as an annual, winter annual or biennial plant. It reseeds itself easily and can be found growing year-round in southern gardens, waste areas and disturbed ground. 

    This Mallow has a long, woody taproot, moist rounded leaves, and simple white to pale pink or purple flowers that resemble its cousins above but are smaller and more fragile. Everything about the plant is smaller than its cousins. Just because it’s smaller does not, however, mean it’s less medicinally active. In fact, I find that plants that will grow just about everywhere are usually quite useful medicinally, and Common Mallow is nothing if it’s not tenacious. In fact, once it takes hold in the garden or yard, you might as well harvest it.

    Common Mallow

    Parts Used

    All parts of all the plants above may be used as medicine.  

    Primary Chemical Constituents

    Starch, mucilage, pectin, flavonoids, phenolic acids, tannins, quercetin, kaempferol, calcium, phosphorus, beta carotene, choline, anthocyanidins, vitamin A, dihydroflavonol, and asparagine.

    Medicinal Properties of the Mallows

    These Mallows are superior mucosal vulneraries that sooth, heal and protect internally. They are demulcent, nutritive, alterative, diuretic, vulnerary, mildly laxative, rejuvenative, expectorant, emollient, antitussive, and anti-inflammatory.


    Sweet, cool/cold, moist, softening, thickening, and relaxing.

    Medicinal Uses of Mallow

    As medicine, these plants are primarily used as demulcents and emollients to sooth, protect and relieve irritation of the mucous membranes and the skin. They have affinities to the respiratory, urinary, and digestive system. At the same time, they help limit inflammation and help mobilize white blood cells to prevent or treat infection. Additionally, the Mallows cleanse and rebuild the water systems of the body. They are perfect anytime the need is to cool hot, irritated tissue, while softening what is rough, dry, and inflamed. Pretty nifty huh.

    Mucosal Vulnerary

    Mucus membranes are your bodies interior skin. Everywhere the skin continues to the inside of the body there are mucus membranes. This is true for the respiratory system, digestive system, and the urinary and reproductive systems, as well as the eyes and ears. Like the skin, mucus membranes protect us from the outside world. This is accomplished through the production of a thick viscus substance called mucus, that keeps everything soft, moist, and pliable. Mucus also contains a kind of antibacterial or antimicrobial agent to protect against external invaders, bacteria, and viruses. 

    All the Mallows above contain high level of mucilage, a slimy substance, resembling mucus. The highest amounts are usually found in the roots of the plants, especially in Marshmallow and Hollyhock plants. However, the leaves of all these plants above contain plenty of mucilage to effectively restore, calm, cool and sooth inflamed mucus membranes. 

    Respiratory System

    A rejuvenative for the lungs, these Mallows are useful in the beginning stages of bronchitis, when the lungs feel hot and irritated and when there is an unproductive, dry cough. A tea, either alone or combined with Licorice, Thyme and Ginger can be sipped throughout the day to gently diminish the cough reflex, while providing a soothing effect on the throat and inflamed bronchial tissue. 

    Use the tea or chew fresh leaves to sooth a sore throat, sinus infection and relieve hoarseness.

    Urinary and Digestive Systems

    Use the roots or the whole plant of Common Mallow for relief of urinary tract inflammation and irritation. It is soothing, cooling and alkalizing for the urethra and bladder whether used alone or mixed with other diuretics like Dandelion, Gravel root, Parsley root, Juniper or Orange peel. Most people find it quite relieving when urination is burning and painful or when there is swelling of the urethra, kidneys or bladder. It combines well with Dandelion and Orange peel to relieve the pain and help break down urinary and gallstones stones and to treat prostatitis.

    The Mallows help smooth and heal mild irritation of the stomach, small and large intestines. Useful for stomach sensitivity, ulcers, acid reflux, heartburn, tonsilitis, hemorrhoids, sore gums, and to sooth irritations associated with chronic constipation, diarrhea, and dysentery. 

    The mucilage contained in these plants stimulate macrophage activity that help promote healing and prevent infection in the skin, upper intestinal tract, urinary tract, and lungs. Used daily in a tea, these plants can bring surprising benefits in some chronic conditions initiated by infection. It is not fast-acting, yet 2 cups per day for a few weeks can help permanently turn around stubborn issues like lung grunge, urethritis, prostatitis and chronic gastritis.

    External Use

    Use the fresh or powdered dry plant to make an excellent poultice for swellings, useful for bringing abscesses to a head and getting splinters out of the skin. Use the poultice for stings, wounds, and chronic non-healing wounds like bed sores. It will promote healing and draw out the infection while keeping the surrounding tissues soft. I’ve even seen it draw deep internal infection to the surface for drainage. The infusion or cold tea helps cool a sunburn and sooth a rash. Mallow infusion makes excellent sitz baths, douches, and suppositories.  

    Other Uses

    David Frawley says in his book, “Yoga of Herbs” that Marshmallow (including the other mallows discussed here) is one of the best nutritive tonics in western herbalism. As a rejuvinative for the lungs, kidneys, and as a nutritive agent, he suggests putting Mallow root in cold milk and bringing it slowly to a boil with a pinch of ginger.

    Michael Moore in his book, “Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West” says that Mallow leaf tea is a traditional drink for facilitating labor and as a gentle skin wash for infants.

    Preparation and Dosage.

    The Mallows are best prepared as a cold infusion to preserve their strong demulcent and mucilaginous properties. If a tincture is preferred, they can be prepared or preserved in low-percentage alcohol of about 20%. For the best product, place leaves, flowers or root in cold water and leave to infuse for 30 to 60 minutes stirring frequently. Add 20% alcohol, stir well. Then place the whole concoction, plant and all into canning jars for 2 weeks, shaking every day. Strain before use. Suggested dose is about 5 to 10 millimeters throughout the day.

    You can also make honey infusions, glycerites, tea and syrup. If heating water, always let the herb sit in cold water for 30 to 60 minuets before increasing the temperature. Then, heat slowly over a low burner.  It may take a little more time, but it’s worth it.


    Urinary Stone Support

    • 2 parts Marshmallow or Hollyhock Root
    • 2 parts Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinalis)
    • 1 part Orange Peel (Citrus avrantium v. dolcis)
    • 1 part Parsley Root (Petroselinum crispum)

    Use as a tea or tincture. To make the tea. Place herbs 1 oz herb mixture in 16 ounces of cold water. Let steep for 30 minutes. Place on a low flame and bring to a boil slowly. Remove from heat. Strain herbs and correct water to 16 oz. Drink ½ cup 4x per day.

    If mixing a tincture, take a total of 2 teaspoons spread throughout the day.

    Bronchial Relief Tea

    Mix equal parts

    • Mallow
    • Licorice root
    • Elecampane

    Mix ¼ part Ginger

    Mix herbs. Add 1 teaspoon herb mixture to 1 cup water. Let sit for 15 minutes. Bring to a boil. remove from heat, strain, and enjoy.


    Mallows are generally considered safe. 2 side effects have been reported.

    1. If too much or too thick of mucilage is taken for too long, some people experience slimy urine. If this happens, stop taking it for a few days and decrease the amount of mallow in the overall formula.
    2. Some people experience a temporary lowering of blood pressure. Upon discontinuing the herb, the blood pressure returns to normal.

    Suggested Wonderment Gardens Products

    Further Reading


    Herbal Antitussives and Expectorants – A Review,  International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research, Volume 5, Issue 2, November – December 2010; Article-002

    Tierra, Michael L.Ac, O.M.D. The Way of Herbs; Pocket Books, 1998

    Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West; Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe NM, 2003

    Coffman, Sam; The Herbal Medic; The Human Path, San Antonio Tx, 2014

    Frawley, David Dr, and Lad, Vasant Dr; The Yoga of herbs; Lotus Press, Twin Lakes Wi, 2001


    The statements and ideas presented here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. They have not been evaluated by the FDA. All ideas presented are for the sole purpose of education. To help you take control of your own health. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. We suggest that you always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.

    These statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.

    Herbs taken for health purposes should be treated with the same care as medicine. Herbal remedies are no substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you are serious about good health, you’ll want to combine diet, exercise, herbals, a good relationship with your doctor and a generally healthy lifestyle. No one of these will do it alone.

    This information is designed to be used as part of a complete health plan. No products are intended to replace your doctor’s care, or to supersede any of his/her advice or prescriptions.

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