Marshmallow

Latin Name: Althaea officinalis

The Marsh mallow is a mallow plant, similar to many other plants of the mallow family. The plant grows best in sandy moist soil, but not marshes as far as I am aware.

When I first learnt that the lovely Marshmallow sweet I loved to toast over an open fire was originally made from the root of a plant I could not wait to give it a try… The more I looked into it the more I realised that the original sweet had more to do with a remedy for coughs than it did for a spongy toastable sweet! My first attempt at a sweet made from the plant root went okay. But it had a definite twang. I resolved to use the plant for its properties, not to make sweets.

Water extracts of the root are gooey and can be used to replace egg white (hence their use in puffy sweets). The plant also used to treat a number of diseases and conditions:

The leaves bruised or rubbed upon any place stung with bees, wasps, or the like, presently take away the pain, redness, and swelling that rise thereupon. And Dioscorides saith, The decoction of the roots and leaves helps all sorts of poison, so as the poison be presently voided by vomit. A poultice made of the leaves boiled and bruised, with some bean or barley flower, and oil of Roses added, is an especial remedy against all hard tumours and inflammations, or imposthumes, or swellings of the privities, and other parts, and eases the pains of them; as also against the hardness of the liver or spleen, being applied to the places. The juice of Mallows boiled in old oil and applied, takes away all roughness of the skin, as also the scurf, dandriff, or dry scabs in the head, or other parts, if they be anointed therewith, or washed with the decoction, and preserves the hair from falling off. It is also effectual against scaldings and burnings, St. Anthony’s fire, and all other hot, red, and painful swellings in any part of the body. The flowers boiled in oil or water (as every one is disposed) whereunto a little honey and allum is put, is an excellent gargle to wash, cleanse or heal any sore mouth or throat in a short space. If the feet be bathed or washed with the decoction of the leaves, roots, and flowers, it helps much the defluxions of rheum from the head; if the head be washed therewith, it stays the falling and shedding of the hair. The green leaves (saith Pliny) beaten with nitre, and applied, draw out thorn or prickles in the flesh. (Complete Herbal  by Culpeper 17C)

Though please note Culpeper has a habit of listing hundreds of plant cures! Modern research has, however, found the extract from marshmallow effective in calming coughs and effective stimulating cell vitality of skin cells. Thus suggesting that marshmallows traditional use as an aid to suppress coughs and calm skin is a reasonable one.

 

Image from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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