To many, marshmallows are white, puffy confections that people enjoy eating and roasting over a campfire and melting into s’mores. The origin of these spongy edibles is Althea officinalis, a plant that has been used in alternative medicine for more than 2,000 years.A. officinalis has been used to treat sore throat, cough, skin burns, and gastrointestinal problems.2 A perennial herb that grows up to 120cm tall on a sturdy single stem, A. officinalis is mostly found in Southern and Western Europe, Western Asia, and the Northeastern region of North America.2


The parts of A. officinalis that are harvested are the root and leaf structures, which are then cleaned and dried. For medicinal use, solvents from water to methanol are used to form extracts of the plant components. The resulting product is a thick, slippery gel (mucilage) that has been shown to be useful for soothing the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory system and the lining of the gastrointestinal system.1

The mechanism of action of A. officinalis is linked to its high polysaccharide content. The herb’s main chemical constituents are pectin, starch, and mucilage.2

This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor