Since introducing the herb marshmallow root as a soothing tea for the bladder in To Wake In Tears back in 1998, I have received a lot of questions concerning its use in the treatment of IC. I decided to post the following responses to common questions I have received over the past several years.
How long does it take for marshmallow root to heal the bladder?
It will be different for everyone based not only on how bad a shape their bladder is in to begin with, but just as important, what else they are doing to treat their IC. For example, if a person is taking several different synthetic medications and drinking marshmallow root tea, it will take much longer for the herb to help heal the lining. In this instance, the tea will be helping to flush the chemicals from the medications out of the system which is good, but since the chemicals/toxins may be irritating the bladder lining, it does make it harder to feel the soothing effects. Taking medications, though they may be helping in one way, does keep the body and urine toxic. The herb still contains mucilage and is soothing. But also through its nature it is flushing impurities from the body, so it takes longer. If a person is drinking the tea but not doing much else to heal and re-balance the rest of their body (e.g., maybe they still have several sources of toxicity in place such as smoking, medications, yeast overgrowth, hormonal imbalance, etc., or maybe they aren't doing any cleansing or alkalizing of their body) then it's going to take a lot longer for the herb to help heal the bladder. In fact, if those sources of toxicity remain in place, the herb will help as a soother, but it will not be near enough to heal the bladder lining. More usually needs to be done.
Everyone will feel relief from the tea at different points. Some people can feel its soothing effects immediately. It was not that way for me. My bladder was still very raw and in bad shape when I first starting drinking it. I was going on sheer faith that it was good for me (based on what I had read about the herb) and I kept drinking it anyway. Eventually I could tell that it was helping and was even able to feel the soothing effects as I was drinking it. But it took me several weeks or maybe even a few months before that happened for me. Since To Wake In Tears came out, I have heard from tons of people who feel the tea has helped them right away. So everyone is going to be different. I would say that even if you don't literally feel like it's helping you, as long as you don't feel allergic to it, then I would keep drinking it (along with whatever else you are choosing to do to heal) and eventually, I think you will see the healing effects.
Over the years I have only heard from a handful of people who felt like they were allergic to marshmallow root. If you are allergic to marshmallow root, most likely it will upset your stomach a bit. It should not cause you additional burning in the bladder. If you feel that it does, it might be that the gentle flush it provides is pushing toxins through your system. It would be the toxins that are causing the burning, not the herb. Marshmallow root is not an astringent herb. It is a soother only and should not cause burning. It is very similar to aloe vera in that it is high in mucilage and its main role is to soothe and heal. You can test to see if you are allergic by putting a little bit of the root on your tongue and letting it sit there for a minute or two. If you don't feel sick to your stomach, you're probably not allergic. Of course you can also get muscle tested with NAET to check as well. In all these years, I've rarely heard of a person allergic to marshmallow root. But of course, it IS possible. We can be allergic to ANYTHING.
Do you have to drink it every day for it to work?
No. You don't have to drink it every day nor do you have to drink it for the rest of your life a medication (e.g., Elmiron). When your bladder is still in bad shape, the more you drink it, the better because your bladder needs all the soothing it can get. As you start to heal and you are having a decent bladder day, for example, it's okay if you don't drink it. Some days you might drink 5-8 cups and other days only a half cup. Do it based on how you're feeling. The worse your bladder feels, the more you can drink. You cannot overdose on marshmallow root. It is one of the most mellow herbs out there. It is safe for babies and pregnant women, that's how mellow it is. It has been around since bible times and is actually mentioned in the bible as a food that they used to eat. So you don't have to be concerned about drinking too much of it.
I'm glad to have been asked these questions because since the article on me came out in Redbook years ago, the way they wrote it, it seems like you can just drink marshmallow root tea and it will heal your bladder lining. And as I say in my books, that is simply not the case. It takes much more than marshmallow root to heal an IC bladder. I believe the whole body needs to be treated in order for the bladder to heal.
Marshmallow root is just a great thing to use to soothe the inflamed and irritated tissues of the bladder. It is nutritive to the tissues, meaning it helps to nourish the tissues. The demulcent quality (or gooeyness) of the herb and the fact that it nourishes as it soothes, makes it a great herb for IC patients in my opinion. BUT it must also be realized that it cannot work alone. The rest of what you do to heal definitely makes a difference.
Where do I get it and is it okay to take in pill form or a tincture?
It used to be that marshmallow root rarely came in teabags. If it was, it was often combined with other herbs. However, so many IC patients have used it that it is now available in pre-made teabags. If you have trouble finding it you can do what I always had done and buy the actual herb in bulk form. There are several places online to choose from but I have always liked Starwest Botanicals and Mountain Rose Herbs. It is very inexpensive. A $5.00 bag of marshmallow root should last you for several months.
Yes, it is okay to take marshmallow root in capsules or a non-alcohol tincture, but as I say in my books, drinking it in tea is the best for the bladder. The capsules are better to help soothe the intestines though it will help the bladder some and is better than nothing if you don't want to drink the tea. A tincture, as long as it is alcohol-free, is okay to put under your tongue or in water. A vegetable glycerin tincture of marshmallow root can be especially helpful if you have kidney pain or kidney involvement with your IC.
Yes, you can make the tea from a pill or a tincture, but making the tea from the actual herb, I believe, is the best way to do it.
How do you make marshmallow root tea?
There are many ways to make marshmallow root into a tea. If you use a tea ball, just throw a teaspoon or so of the root into it and dunk it in a cup of hot water a few times. You don't have to let it steep forever or anything. Just dunk it around a bit. The tea should look a pale yellow color and not taste like much of anything. Remember, it doesn't have to be strong for it to work. I never made it strong, that’s how I know this for certain.
Many herb books recommend making a cold infusion because the heat can destroy some of the mucilage (or gooeyness). But I think it's still plenty gooey (hee!) making it hot. Some people boil the herb for 10-20 minutes or something, but to me that makes a real strong tea and is not necessary. But “to each his own”, as I always say.
I used to make it in my drip coffeemaker so that I could make more than one cup at a time, plus I ended up using my tea ball in the herbal baths I was taking so then I didn't want to use it to make tea anymore because ya know, yuck. Anyway, I used to put a heaping tablespoon of the root into the gold filter (you can use paper filters too) and then I would fill the back of the coffeemaker with water and brew like I would coffee. If you don’t drink it all, you can keep it in the refrigerator for a couple days. Like any other tea, the longer you keep it in the refrigerator, the stronger it will get.
Very often, as I describe in the books, I would add other herbs to the marshmallow root such as a teaspoon or so of catnip (an antispasmodic) and a teaspoon or so of raspberry leaf (a soother and supporter of the female organs). This made the tea taste better to me without having to add sugar or honey to it. Plus, and most importantly, it relaxes bladder spasms, menstrual cramps, and spasming intestines. So once you know you can tolerate one herb at a time, you can combine some of them into one tea.
What other supplements should I take while drinking the marshmallow root tea?
Well it really depends on your situation, where you are in your healing, and also what you can tolerate. There are natural products and herbs for all kinds of things so it's really based on what you want to accomplish and also, of course, what you and your bladder can tolerate. But marshmallow root goes very well with most things as it doesn't really interact with anything. Its actions are more soothing and a bit purifying as it very gently flushes the system. So at most, if you are taking a pharmaceutical medication of some kind, you might not want to take it the same half hour you drink marshmallow root tea because it will help flush it through your system a bit faster. (Not THAT fast, just a little bit faster.) The drug wouldn't work as strongly then, but that's about it. And when it comes to other natural supplements, you can pretty much be doing anything while drinking it. For example, all of these things are okay to do when drinking marshmallow root tea (they are all things I did while drinking it) - taking natural antibiotics/anti-fungals, cleansing the colon with whatever natural product you choose, boosting the immune system with whatever herb or natural product you choose, using natural progesterone cream or natural estrogen, going through NAET treatments, taking synthetic antibiotics (just don't drink the tea the same half hour you took one), taking pain medication, taking acidophilus or any probiotic, or taking any vitamin/mineral supplement. All of those things are fine while using marshmallow root tea.