Scientific Name(S): Althaea officinalis L. Family: Malvaceae
Common Name(S): Altheae radix, althea, marshmallow
The genus name Althaea is from the Greek word "althe" and means "to heal". Althea Root powder has been used as a binding agent to hold other herbs together in making pills, and has been commonly substituted for Slippery Elm in herbal remedies as many Elm trees are becoming endangered due to Dutch Elm Disease. During times of famine, Althea Root has nourished many people.
Botany: Althea is a perennial that grows to 5 feet in salt marshes and moist regions throughout Europe, western and northern Asia, and the eastern US. Its 3-lobed leaves are velvety, and the plant resembles hollyhock (Althaea rosea). The plant blooms from July to September. The family Malvaceae is known as the mallow family, and confusion may surround the common nomenclature and identification of the plants in this group. The root is collected in the fall, peeled of its brown corky layer, dried, and used in commerce. The leaves share many of the properties of the bark and have also been used in traditional medicine.
History: Althea root has been recognized as a source of useful mucilage, which has been used for more than 2 millennia to treat topical wounds and as a remedy for sore throats, coughs, and stomach ailments. The mucilage is incorporated into ointments to soothe chapped skin and is added to foods in small quantities (≈20 ppm) to provide bulk and texture. One report discusses Althea-type plants in a Neanderthal gravesite in Iraq.
Uses of Althea
Althea mucilage has been used to soothe dermal irritations, sore throats, and coughs. It appears to have bactericidal and anti-inflammatory properties.
The root is used in varicose veins and ulcers as well as in abscesses and boils, and it is used in cosmetics for weather-damaged skin. The peeled root may be given to teething babies to chew on. Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects have also been reported.
The leaves are an effective treatment for bronchitis, respiratory catarrh, irritating coughs, urethritis, and urinary gravel. It is used locally for abscesses, boils and ulcers. Its demulcent action helps to relieve dry coughs, bronchial asthma and pleurisy and soothes sore throats. Taken as a warm infusion, the leaves help to relieve cystitis and urinary frequency.
Side Effects of Althea
Long used as a food additive, althea has no observed toxicity.
Summary: Althea root and extracts have demulcent properties that make them useful in the management of sore throats and coughs along with topical dermal irritations. The plant has a long history of use and is not associated with any important toxicity.
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