Althaea officinalis, or marshmallow, is one of my favorite herbs. I love to grow this ancient botanical in my garden because it’s a stunning plant with a fantastic history. People have long viewed marshmallow as a food as well as a gentle remedy, because it is both pleasantly edible and a demulcent. When it’s growing in your garden, you can cook the young stalks and leaves just like any other pot herb or green; they’re wonderful in a salad, you can boil them or fry them, and they disappear into smoothies!
When you say marshmallow, however, most people think of the kind you roast over a campfire (I did!). When I was a kid and we’d go camping, I would always roast marshmallows, slap them on a graham cracker with a slab of chocolate, and have a s’more while we sat around the campfire telling stories. It was great!
History of Marshmallow
Obviously, today’s sugar-based marshmallows aren’t good for us, but when you go back to the origins of this campfire treat, it actually did come from marshmallow root. The sap of the root was traditionally administered to children who were experiencing dry, irritated throats and other similar issues. In order to give this soothing demulcent a better flavor, and make it more appealing to children, confectioners in 19th century France invented a sweetened marshmallow root confection that children would happily eat, called pâté de guimauve. This soft, healthful treat was sold in lozenge and bar form.
Benefits of Marshmallow
Botanicals that are demulcents like marshmallow have a calming effect on the mucus membranes they come into contact with because they contain mucopolysaccharides. These are chains of sugar molecules, which in humans are often found in mucus and in the fluid around our joints. So a demulcent essentially coats those irritated membranes and offers soothing relief. Since ancient times, people around the world have used marshmallow root to soothe the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach.
Marshmallow Tea Recipe
Makes about 12 ounces.
Active Time: 5 minutes.
Tea is a wonderful way to ingest marshmallow’s healthful properties, but it’s important to know that mucopolysaccharides are destroyed by heat. So if you are going to make a tea from either marshmallow root or marshmallow leaf, it's best to use room temperature water.
- 12 oz. room temperature, non-chlorinated water
- 1-2 Tbsp. organic marshmallow leaf or 1 Tbsp. organic marshmallow root
- Put water in an appropriately sized vessel that can be covered.
- Stir herb into water and cover.
- Let steep at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours.
- Strain before drinking.
I find marshmallow to be delicious, and it’s a wonderful way to soothe so many of the problems that come up in our lives in these modern times. It beautifully weaves its way into both the household kitchen and the herbal pantry. Here’s to marshmallow!
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