"The root of Althaea officinalis, Linné"—(U. S. P.).
COMMON NAME: Marshmallow.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 35; Woodville, Med. Bot., 198.
Botanical Source.—Althaea officinalis is a peculiarly soft and downy, hoary, green herb, having a tap-shaped, rather woody root. It has several erect, simple stems, from 2 to 5 feet in height, round, leafy, tough, and pliant; the leaves are ovate or heart-shaped at the base, of various breadths, plaited, 5-ribbed, unequally serrated, petioled, soft and pliable, and more or less deeply divided into 5 acute lobes, The flowers are large, in very short, dense, axillary panicles, rarely solitary, of a delicate, uniform, blush color. The involucre has 8, 9, 10, or 12 divisions. The 1-seeded fruit is formed of numerous capsular carpels, closely and circularly arranged around the axis.
History and Description.—This perennial herb is found commonly on the banks of rivers, and in salt marshes. It is indigenous to Europe, and portions of Asia, in some parts of which it is cultivated in great quantities for medical use; and moist, sandy soils are preferred. It flowers from July to September. The whole plant, but especially the root, abounds with mucilage. Although the plant grows to some extent in the United States, the root is principally obtained from Europe for medical purposes, that which comes from Germany being much whiter but not so thick as that from the south of France. As found in commerce, the root is in pieces 3 or 4 inches long, or more, roundish, about 1/2 inch in diameter, with a feeble odor and very mucilaginous taste. It should be chosen plump, and little fibrous; with a very white surface, well cleared of its yellowish epidermis, downy from the mode of dressing it with files; and possessing no moldy, acid, nor musty odor, and no acid taste. Sometimes it is met with divided lengthwise. The plant contains nearly 20 percent of mucilage—(Ed., Duncan). Both the flowers and leaves are occasionally employed by the Europeans. The root should be gathered in the early spring or autumn of the second (not later than the third) year's growth, and only the fleshy portions retained, the older, woody roots being valueless.
The Pharmacopoeia of the United States directs that Althaea shall conform to the following description: "In cylindrical or somewhat conical pieces, from 10 to 15 Cm. (4 to 6 inches) long, 10 to 15 Mm. (.039 to .059 inch) in diameter, deeply wrinkled; deprived of the brown, corky layer and small roots; externally white, marked with a number of circular spots, and of a somewhat hairy appearance from the loosened bast fibres; internally whitish and fleshy. It breaks with a short, granular, and mealy fracture, has a faint, aromatic odor, and a sweetish, mucilaginous taste"—(U. S. P.).
Chemical Composition.—Althaea-root contains starch, pectin, mucilage, sugar, lignin, calcium phosphate, fixed oil, a viscid material, and asparagin (A. Buchner). Asparagin (C4H8N2O3.H2O), is a colorless, crystallizable body, without taste or odor. Ether and alcohol do not dissolve it, but it is extracted from the root with water, from which it may be crystallized by concentrating the solution. Its reactions prove it to be amido-succinamic acid, having the formula: CO2N.CH2.CHNH2.CONH2. When boiled with acids or alkalies, it splits into ammonia and amido-succinic acid or aspartic acid (C4H7NO4). Asparagin is distinguished by its optical activity, being laevo-rotatory in aqueous solution, which changes to dextro-rotatory by the action of acetic acid. Asparagin, when pure, is stable in solution, but is susceptible to fermentation in the presence of albuminoid substances, whereby it is converted into ammonium succinate.
Asparagin was discovered by Vauquelin and Robiquet, in 1805, in the juice of the asparagus plant, and in the marshmallow root, as althein, by M. Bacon, in 1826. It is identical with agedoite, found by Caventou in liquorice root (Jour. de Pharm., xiv., 177), and is found in many other plants, e. g., comfrey, dahlia, potatoes, the roots of Robinia Pseudacacia, etc. The mucilage (free from starch) of the root is extracted with cold water; the starch by boiling water.
Ɣ Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The root of this plant, as well as of each of the below mentioned plants described as substitutes, is demulcent and diuretic, and may be used indiscriminately, the one for the other. They will be found valuable, in the form of decoction, in diseases of the mucous tissues, as hoarseness, catarrh, pneumonia, gonorrhoea, vesical catarrh, renal irritation, acute dysentery, and diarrhoea. In strangury, inflammation of the bladder, hematuria, retention of urine, some forms of gravel, and indeed in nearly every affection of the kidney and bladder, their use will be found advantageous. Much use is made of them combined with equal parts of spearmint, in urinary derangements. They are likewise efficacious in gastro-intestinal irritation and inflammation. As the decoction soon decomposes, or becomes moldy or acid, it should always be made in small quantities, not more than 1 or 2 pints at a time, according to the temperature of the weather. Ɣ Externally, marshmallow root is very useful in the form of poultice, to discuss painful, inflammatory tumors, and swellings of every kind, whether the consequence of wounds, bruises, burns, scalds, or poisons; and has, when thus applied, had a happy effect in preventing the occurrence of gangrene. The infusion or decoction may be freely administered.
Related Species.—Althaea rosea, Cavanilles. (Alcea rosea, Linné). Common garden hollyhock. Native of China. Cultivated for its beauty in gardens. The flowers, capsules, and root are used for similar purposes as the marshmallow. The purple flowers are preferred, a concentrated infusion of which colors white bibulous paper a fast purple-blue, which is turned a blue-green by alkalies, and red with acids. The root contains a considerable amount of mucilage, and is sometimes used as an emollient and demulcent.
Althaea taurinensis, De Candolle. South Europe. Use, same as of Althaea officinalis.
Malva sylvestris, Linné. Common mallow. This is a perennial, hairy herb, sometimes called High-mallow; has a tapering, branching, whitish root, and an erect, round stem 2 or 3 feet high. Leaves alternate, deep-green, soft, downy, serrated, plaited, with 7 acute lobes, oil hairy petioles; uppermost with fewer, but deeper and more acute lobes than the lower ones. Flowers large, numerous, of a shining purple, veiny, on simple, aggregate, hairy axillary stalks. Calyx 5-cleft. Petals 5, inversely cordate, thrice the length of the calyx. Stamens indefinite, monadelphous. Pollen large, whitish. Ripe carpels reticulated at the back.—(L.—G.).
Malva rotundifolia, Linné. Low-mallow, or Round-mallow, called by children who are fond of eating the fruit, cheeses; has a fusiform root and prostrate stem; leaves of a fine, delicate texture, roundish, cordate, or somewhat reniform, crenate, obtusely 5 or 7-lobed, on long, hairy petioles. Flowers pale-pink, deeply-notched petals, on aggregate, axillary peduncles. Fruit depressed-globose, composed of the numerous carpels arranged circularly (W.).
The M. sylvestris is a native of Europe, and is naturalized in this country, growing abundantly in fields, roadsides, and waste places, and flowering from May to October. The whole plant, especially the root, abounds in mucilage. The M. rotundifolia, a very common, troublesome plant, growing around dwellings and in cultivated rounds together with other species of this genus, possesses similar properties, and they may be substituted for each other. The herb and flowers are inodorous, with a weak, herbaceous, mucilaginous taste. Water extracts their mucilage, and acetate of lead precipitates the solution. The root and seeds maybe also used, as they contain much mucilage. Ɣ The blue infusion, or tincture of the flowers, is turned green by alkalies, and red by acids, thus forming an exceedingly delicate indicator. Mallows possesses the properties common to mucilaginous herbs. An infusion forms an excellent demulcent in coughs, irritations of the air passages, flux, affections of the kidneys and bladder, etc. It may also be used in injection. The herb, bruised, forms a good emollient cataplasm to boils and inflammatory conditions of external parts. Low-mallows makes a good ointment for use on sores in horses.
Abutilon Avicennae, Gaertner. (Sida Abutilon, Linné). Indian mallows. Velvet leaf. Indigenous to the Levant. Naturalized in Europe and the United States, where it is a common weed. Emollient and diuretic. Cultivated in China as a substitute for hemp.
Hibiscus Moscheutos, Linné (Hibiscus palustris). Marsh rose hibiscus. U. S. Marsh hibiscus has a root very much resembling that of the Marshmallow, possesses exactly the same properties, and may be as effectually used. It is a tall, showy, perennial plant, growing in salt marshes, near salt springs, and on wet prairies, and flowers in August.
Hibiscus virginicus, Sweat weed. Marshes along the Atlantic from New York southward. Has the mucilaginous properties of the Althaeas.
Hibiscus esculentus, Linné (Abelmoschus esculentus, Guillemin and Perrotett). (See Hibiscus).
Abelmoschus moschatus, Moench (Hibiscus Abelmoschus, Linné). (See Hibiscus).
Hibiscus Rosa-Sinensis, Linné. China rose. The bark of the stem is reputed emmenagogue, while the root is employed in the Eastern world like Marshmallow. It is a cultivated species.
Hibiscus Sabdariffa, Linné. Africa. Red sorrel. Cultivated in tropical climes. It is known in the Mexico-Texan regions as Jamaica. The calyx, which contains mucilage, malic, tartaric, and possibly oxalic acids, in a free state, is the part employed.
Sida rhombifolia. Queensland hemp. Jelly leaf. Contains an abundance of mucilage, and is employed as a poultice and a remedy in respiratory complaints.
Species.—SPECIES PECTORALES (N. F.), Pectoral Species. Species ad infusum pectorale. Breast tea. (German Pharmacopoeia). Formulary number, 344: "Althaea, peeled, 8 parts, coltsfoot leaves, 4 parts; glycyrrhiza, Russian, peeled, 3 parts; anise, 2 parts; mullein flowers, 2 parts; orris root, 1 part. Cut, bruise, and mix them. Note.—Coltsfoot leaves are derived from Tussilago Farfara, Linné. Mullein flowers are from Verbascum Thapsus, G. Meyer. Infusum pectorale (pectoral infusion, or infusion of pectoral species), is made by infusing 1 troy ounce of the above preparation, in the usual manner, so as to obtain 10 fluid ounces of strained product"—(Nat. Form.) As the name of this preparation implies, it is employed by the Germans in various pulmonic complaints, attended with cough.
SPECIES EMOLLIENTES(N. F.), Emollient species. Emollient cataplasm. (German Pharmacopoeia). Formulary number, 342: "Althaea leaves, mallow leaves, melilot tops, matricaria, flaxseed, of each, equal parts. Reduce them to a coarse powder, and mix it uniformly. Note.—Mallow leaves are derived from Malva vulgaris, Fries, and Malva sylvestris, Linné. Melilot tops are the leaves and flowering branches of Melilotus officinalis, Desrousseaux, and Melilotus altissimus Thuilliers"—(Nat. Form.). This is designed for the ready preparation of an emollient poultice for various inflammations, swellings, etc.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.