Marshmallow

Family: Malvaceae
Related to: Hibiscus, Cotton, Hollyhock
Native Habitat: Europe, Western Asia, North Africa – there are certain varieties such as globemallow, which are native to New Mexico and can possibly demonstrate similar properties
Parts Used: Leaves, Roots, Flowers
Growing Conditions: Moist, sandy loam soils with opportunity for shade

We all have associations when we hear certain words, and marshmallow is quite possibly the poster child for this. What comes to mind when you first hear this word? It’s that fluffy, white, sugary puffball we put in between two graham crackers with a piece of chocolate over a fire right?

Though there is not even a hint of true marshmallow plant in marshmallows today, they did originate from traditional uses of cooking the root in honey or sugar and making little balls to suck on for sore throats. Uses have been documented as far back as 2,000 years ago when ancient Egyptians delighted in offering the sweet morsels to the gods. The Romans and the Greeks saw the plant for its medicinal value and began to use it to treat sore throats. Into the 15th century, we see it gain popularity as a remedy for varying ailments. It was in the 1800s, however when the French discovered that mixing the sap with egg whites and corn syrup could create a fluff delicious little treat, that the confectionary marshmallow was born!

But back to this wonderful plant. So, we know that it has been used for centuries, not only in Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, but native varieties to the Americas were also used. How did we come to find this plant works so well, and what makes it such a versatile herb for so many parts of the body?

Marshmallow’s primary indication is its ability to coat, sooth, and protect inflamed or damaged tissue within the body. It has a cooling action that can help ease inflammation, coating the mucous membranes in order to support the body in its effort to heal. It is also extremely nutritive and a great herb for kids! Used both internally and externally, the plant coats and protects many organs within the body. If you’ve ever worked with true mallow, you have noticed that when mixed with water it shows its medicinal value through the mucilaginous substance it creates after sitting for a period of time. When thinking of the many issues that much of our community faces we tend to see recurring themes. Nervous system damage due to overexertion, stomach and gastrointestinal issues, many from diet or other environmental factors, reproductive issues. What do these issues often have in common? Inflamed or damaged tissue, which can be aided by the loving, gentle, plant ally, the marshmallow.  If we remember that its properties are soothing internally (demulcent), and externally (emollient), and cooling to tissue we see that it helps support the nerves by calming irritated and inflamed nerve endings, protecting them from damage. It coats and repairs the stomach lining and digestive track in times of severe irritation manifesting in things such as heartburn, diarrhea, or constipation. In both reproductive areas of men and women, it can be a helpful addition to formulas to ease irritated or infected tissue due to yeast infections, and prostate inflammation. Topically it works similarly on the skin, our largest organ. It can even be added to diaper rash mixes to help sooth unhappy baby bottoms. By coating the mucous membranes in our body, and providing a protective barrier to unhappy tissue surrounding organs, marshmallow is certainly a handy herb to know about.

Let’s circle back to the cough syrup we so lovingly described above. Can you think of how marshmallow is an important additive to this formula? Botanical Fun Fact, the leaves of marshmallow contain little hairs, which can be likened to the cilia (tiny little hairlike structures on our lungs). When we can relate to a plant in a certain way, it can help us remember how it works for our body. Marshmallow works on the cilia as a gentle, cooling, expectorant, helping us to release congestion within the lungs, cooling hyperactivity, while soothing the inflamed tissue in our throat from all of the coughing accomplished while sick. What a plant!