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Altea in herbal medicine: traditional properties and uses

Altea in herbal medicine: traditional properties and uses

The name of the genus Althea (in enghish Marshmallow) comes from the Greek "althein", that is "to heal". In ancient German the marshmallow was called "hibiscus", a name deriving from the Greek "ibiskos" and from the Latin "hibiscus", the ancient name of this plant.

Marshmallow: how to recognize it

Altheae officinalis belongs to the malvaceae family: it is a perennial, multiannual herbaceous plant, which can reach a height of 60-150 cm. It lives spontaneously in the humid and marshy places of central-southern Europe, Asia Minor, Syria, Central Asia and North America.

The stem is simple, erect, not very branched, covered with a thick down like leaves.

The leaves are alternate, petiolate, velvety, gray-green, have a triangular or oval shape, with serrated edge and are mostly slightly trilobed or five-lobed. They are present only in summer and fall in winter.

The pinkish-white flowers, which bloom from July to September, are 25-40 mm long and appear singly or in tufts. They consist of 8-9 lanceolate external sepals joined at the base and in five 15-25 mm long petals. Reproduction occurs by pollination through bees or by self-pollination.

The root is yellowish-white and tapered shape (taproot root).

Marshmallow: the active ingredients

About Altea officinalis in herbal medicine, dried and dehulled leaves and roots are used (monographs n° 1856 and 1126 of the European Pharmacopoeia). Folk medicine also uses flowers.

The main uses of the marshmallow are mainly based on the high content of mucilage. Mucilages consist mainly of acid polysaccharides such as ramnogalacturonan, arabinogalactans and glucans. The roots contain about 10-20% of mucilage (up to 25-35% in autumn) and the leaves 6-10%.

In addition to mucilage, the roots also have a high starch content and also contain pectin, scopoletin and essential oil with palmitin triglycerides, oleic acid and butyric acid and, to a small extent, also tannins.

The leaves, on the other hand, are rich in flavonoids, in particular tiliroside a derivative of canferol, hypolaetin-8-gentiobioside and derivatives of luteolin. Many of the physiological effects attributed to the plant are associated with tiliroside, considered among the most active constituents of marshmallow leaves.

Both marshmallow roots and leaves also contain phenolic acids, such as p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, p-hydroxyphenylacetic acid, caffeic acid, salicylic acid, syringic acid and vanillic acid.

Marshmallow: properties

The use of marshmallows has been known since ancient times. All parts of the plant contain mucilage and this characterizes the plant's activity as an emollient and anti-inflammatory. In reality, marshmallow does not have a systemic anti-inflammatory action, but thanks to its content in mucilage it has an emollient effect: drugs containing mucilage have the ability to cover and protect the mucous membrane and for this reason they can be used to treat inflammation. Thanks to the emollient properties of the marshmallow, widely recognized, the marshmallow:

- represents a traditional remedy in the treatment of stomatitis, gingivitis and glossitis;

- at the gastrointestinal level it exerts gastroprotective properties at the level of the gastric mucosa and, at the intestinal level, toxins, anti-inflammatory, soothing and antispasmodic properties;

- orally it is part of the treatment, as an adjuvant, of painful forms of irritable colon. The decoction of the root, or rather the cold maceration of the bruised root is used in enemas in case of inflammation of the intestinal mucosa (acute enterocolitis, irritable colon, ulcerative colitis, proctitis etc.);

- it is useful in bronchopulmonary diseases, as well as in the treatment of bronchitis and tracheitis, and also in the treatment of pertussis. Both the German E Commission and ESCOP report that marshmallow relieves local irritation, stimulates phagocytosis and inhibits mucociliary activity, which is beneficial in cases of irritation of the oral mucosa and pharynx associated with dry cough. Already in the 1700s there was talk of preparations based on marshmallow root for the treatment of lung diseases, coughs and hoarseness, catarrhal states of the respiratory tract. More recent studies have shown that mucilages, such as ramnogalacturonan and arabinogalactans, are responsible for these beneficial effects of the plant, contained both in the roots and to a lesser extent in the leaves. Animal studies have shown that ramnogalacturonans have a marked antitussive effect, due to their ability to reduce inflammation of the respiratory tract. The polyuronides contained in the althea are deposited in layers on the mucous membranes, thus preventing the activation of the cough receptors. By inflating in contact with water, polyuronides form a bioadhesive layer with the effect of covering and protecting the mucous membranes;

- it is used externally to facilitate wound healing;

- it is used by Phitofilos in powder for the preparation of packs to hydrate and nourish hair and scalp, and can be used alone (Altea Phitofilos) or added to any mixture of dye powders (Phitofilos emollient pack); used individually it can be used as a neutral herb to make the henna batter more creamy and applicable without dripping.

On the other hand, the antibacterial and antifungal properties of the marshmallow, the hypoglycaemic and control effects on the general metabolism, as well as potential anti-inflammatory properties, would seem to depend on tiliroside, a flavonoid contained in the leaves.

Marshmallow contraindications and side effects

Roots, leaves and flowers of Althaea officinalis have shown no toxic effects and are well tolerated. The recommended daily dose for adults is approximately 5 g for the leaves, 6 g for the root and 10 g for the syrup. The German E Commission also reports neither side effects nor contraindications; however, oral use is reported to delay the absorption of drugs given simultaneously.

Altea in pregnancy and lactation: according to the ESCOP there is no data available. In accordance with general medical practice, the product should not be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding without first hearing the advice of the doctor.

Marshmallow in herbal medicine: uses and dosage

Escop reports, as a single dose for adults:

- for dry cough and oral or pharyngeal irritation 0.5-3 g of drug (dried marshmallow root) left to macerate in cold water or 2-8 ml of syrup, repeating if necessary up to a daily dose equivalent to 15 g vegetable drug (dried marshmallow root, peeled or undecided);

- for gastrointestinal irritations, 3-5 g left to macerate in cold water up to 3 times a day. Oral administration.

Find on erboristeriacomo.it, for cough, sore throat, phlegm, the natural cough syrup for both adults and adults with diabetes (marshmallow compound zero).

Here are some simple do-it-yourself recipes with altea:

- marshmallow decoction (Althaea officinalis L., Malvaceae) for different uses: 1) emollient compress on red eyes: it is prepared with 15 g of marshmallow roots in a minute cut and poured into 500 ml of cold water that is brought boil; keep it for about 5 minutes, turn off and leave to infuse until the liquid cools; it is filtered and used for eye baths and packs; 2) emollient decoction: a spoonful of shredded drug in 200 ml of cold water and let it steep for 2-3 hours; the decoction must always be prepared fresh and can be slightly heated before administration.

- the tea from marshmallow: infuse a teaspoon of leaves in a cup of boiling water and filter after 10 minutes.

Dr. Laura Comollo

Visit our herbal department for any clarification or for more information.

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