A demulcent is a substance that has a soothing effect on mucous membranes (for example, within the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts).
How Demulcents Work
Demulcents have a soothing and cooling effect on the mucous membranes or the skin.
This is usually due to their mucilage content, which are long chain polysaccharides that combine with water to create a slippery, semi-solid mass. Sometimes demulcent action may be due to saponins.
Demulcent remedies are given to soothe the mucous membranes of the Gastro-intestinal tract, Respiratory tract, and Urinary tract.
- Respiratory – elecampane, mullein, marshmallow root, liquorice, plantain;
- Digestive – marshmallow root, liquorice, slippery elm, fenugreek, aloe vera;
- Urinary – corn silk, marshmallow leaf, couch grass;
- Skin – comfrey leaf, marshmallow root, plantain, slippery elm, aloe vera, chickweed
They maybe prescribed as relaxing expectorants, effecting a soothing and anti-tussive action on the respiratory tract. Demulcents may also be able to help to liquefy hard, sticky mucus in the respiratory tract, making it easier to expectorate.
When used externally demulcents are known as emollients.
Generally demulcent herbs work by:
- Reducing irritation and inflammation;
- Providing a protective coating.
They often have an affinity to a particular body system.
- Balch, J.F. & Stengler, M.(2004). Prescription for Natural Cures: a self-care guide for treating diseases and health problems with natural remedies including diet and nutrition, herbal medicine, nutritional supplements, bodywork, and more. John Wiley & Sons, Inc
- Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone
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As its name suggests, Marshmallow originated in salty marshes, damp meadows and ditches, from Europe through into northern Asia; it has spread into America and Australia. It is a member of the Hollyhock family, and its similarity to other mallows is apparent.