Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis): Where’s the data?

Dr. Cathy Wong is a licensed naturopath and certified nutritionist. She writes an upbeat column on the About website.

In one article she discusses Althaea for cough and sore throat, ulcers, and irritated skin.

My thought?

Where are the studies of effectiveness and safety that allow one to recommend Althaea to…

  • “Soothe sore throat pain and reduce coughing”
  • “Coat the lining of the stomach and intestines and reduce inflammation”
  • “Soothe irritated skin”

I don’t question her clinical experience, but I found no studies in humans to support using Althaea officinalis to treat anything.

The MD Anderson Cancer Center website says of Althaea…

  • “No clinical trials assessing marshmallow monotherapy (used alone) have been conducted for any specific health condition.”
  • For the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions, Althaea gets a “C” grade. In other words, “unclear scientific evidence for this use.”
  • “Proper doses and duration [of action] in humans are not known.”

MD Anderson continues with cautions.

  • “Based on [an] animal study, marshmallow may lower blood sugar levels.”
  • “Marshmallow may interfere with the absorption of other drugs.”

Perhaps Dr. Nortin Hadler, who is professor of medicine and microbiology/immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has the best advice. “Don’t leap to swallow ‘symptomatic treatment.’ The prescription of such treatment carries with it the notion that pills will help you cope.”

“Since nearly all the drugs you hear about are marginally effective for these predicaments of life, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and desperation. All have adverse effects, which may further compromise coping.”

4/29/07 11:17 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.