Althaea Officinalis. Marsh-Mallow.
Nat. Ord. — Malvaceae. Sex. Syst. — Monadelphia Polyandria.
Description. — Althaea officinalis is a herbaceous, perennial, hoary green herb, peculiarly soft and downy, with line starry pubescence, and having a tap-shaped, rather woody, perpendicular branching root. The stems are several, erect, from two to five feet in hight, simple, round, branched and leafy toward the summit, and tough and pliant. The leaves are alternate, petiolate, nearly cordate at the base, oblong-ovate and obscurely three to five-lobed above, various in breadth, plaited, five-ribbed, unequally serrated, somewhat angular, soft and pliable, and clothed on both sides with a soft velvety down. The flowers are terminal, in very short, dense axillary panicles, rarely solitary, and of a delicate, uniform, blush color. The corolla has five spreading, obcordate petals, of a pale-purplish color ; the fruit consists of numerous capsules united in a compact circular form, each containing a single seed.
History. — This plant grows in salt marshes and wet situations in many parts of Europe, and has been cultivated in several parts of (his country. It flowers from July to September. Our shops are supplied nearly exclusively from Europe. The whole plant abounds in mucilage. The root is in pieces of three, four or more inches in length, round, nearly as thick as the finger, sometimes split, white, downy, with a peculiar faint smell, a mild, mucilaginous, sweetish taste, and a short, somewhat fibrous fracture. It contains a large proportion of mucilage, which is extracted by cold or hot water, and the solution decomposes if allowed to stand any great length of time. Those pieces which are plump and but slightly fibrous should be preferred, while those should be rejected which are woody, moldy, discolored, of a sour or musty smell, or of a sourish taste.
The Hibiscus Palustris, (or H. Moscheutos) Marsh Hibiscus, of this country, has a root very much resembling that of the Marsh-mallow, 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. The stem is simple, erect, herbaceous, round, downy, and from four to six feet in hight. The leaves are from four to six inches, by three to four inches, often with two lateral lobes, ovate, obtusely dentate, and hoary tomentose beneath. The flowers are larger than those of the hollyhock, rose-colored, purple in the center. Peduncles long, axillary, or connected with the petiole, usually distinct from it, but sometimes united with it, and jointed above the middle. Styles one inch longer than the stamens.
Properties and Uses. — The roots of each of the above plants are 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 membranes, as hoarseness, catarrh, pneumonia, gonorrhea, vesical catarrh, renal irritation, acute dysentery and diarrhea. 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. I make much use of them combined with equal parts of spearmint, in urinary derangements. They are likewise efficacious in gastro-intestinal irritation and inflammation. Externally, they are 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 have, when thus applied, a happy effect in preventing the occurrence of gangrene. As a mucilaginous demulcent only, the Althaea Rosea, or hollyhock may be substituted.
Off. Prep. — Decoctum Althaeae ; Infusum Althaeae.