Natural cough remedies – part 2: In praise of the common mallow


By Ishtar Babilu Dingir

Common mallow, I’ve come to realise, is probably the most under-rated herb in my garden. I bought it a few years ago when I needed something to fill up a damp corner that never gets any sun. It seemed to be quite unimpressive looking, with its dull bluey-green leaves, but I thought it would do to fill the space. Instead, it has turned out to be a stalwart friend in times of need, with a myriad of medicinal benefits that I had no idea about before.

In the last article about natural cough remedies, I wrote that I was trying out a recipe of mallow, apple mint and thyme from my garden, boiled up and then mixed with honey, cinnamon and ginger. That was two days ago. Since then, my cough has massively improved and is no longer disturbing me in the middle of the night.

Not to downplay the medicinal benefits of the thyme and the apple mint, which are also considerable, I have to say, I think the clearing of the cough is largely down to the mallow. This is because there’s a sort of slimy mucilage contained in mallow which coats the membranes of the throat, and this decreases the oversensitivity of the nerves which cause persistent coughs.

But of course, as you might expect with anything natural that’s this helpful and potent, there has to be an FDA warning against it.

Mallow contains ephedrine, and the US Federal Drug Administration claims this to be an amphetamine-like stimulant which can cause harmful side effects. So, since April 2004, the FDA has banned ephedra and mallow, and other products that contain ephedrine – which is a bit rich considering the list-as-long-as-your-arm of side effects of the drugs they do approve!

I would strongly suggest that the FDA testing was performed on ephedrine in isolation and not in the context of the whole plant, which almost certainly contains mitigating factors to offset any potential harm. In addition, you’d probably have to drink several swimming pools of mallow tea before ephedrine overdose would kick in, and you’d be dead from other factors well before then!

Otherwise, mallow could be regarded as a sort of miracle herb, which has been used since the early BCs in China to treat a multitude of ailments from bronchial asthma, tuberculosis, colds, flu, swine flu, chills, lack of perspiration, headaches, nasal congestion, cough and wheezing, urinary infections, sore mouth, and fluid retention.

It’s also said to be good for heart disease, stroke, facial paralysis, tissue pain and swelling (inflammation), sciatic nerve pain, nerve pain, nerve inflammation, ongoing achy joints (chronic rheumatism), and unwanted weight loss.

In combination with ginger, mallow root is used for the type of fever that comes and goes. In combination with milk and sugar, mallow root is used for urinary urgency and vaginal discharges.

Mallow can also be applied directly to the skin for numbness, nerve pain, muscle cramps, skin disorders, tumors, joint diseases, wounds, ulcers, scorpion sting, snakebite, and as a massage oil.

So if you should see this unprepossessing herb on sale at your local garden centre or market, I would suggest that you buy it and find a nice, damp, dark corner for it. And by the way, I almost forgot to mention, its pinky-mauve flowers, which bud in the spring, are quite delicately beautiful and can be eaten in salads.

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