Have you ever wondered why they're called "marshmallows" anyway? At one time, marshmallows were made from demulcent marshmallow root, Althaea officinalis, which in Greek althea literally means “to heal.” In ancient Egypt, only the pharaohs and priest class consumed marshmallows as it was a complicated multi-day process, made from the marshmallow's fresh sap. The plant is also known as "mortification root" because of it's ability to ease fears and anxieties and get us through the frightening campfire ghost stories.
Marshmallow leaf and root are commonly used to treat stomach ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, inflammation of the stomach lining, and pain and swelling of the mucous membranes that line the respiratory tract.
From a postpartum perspective, applying a marshmallow compress can help sooth breast pain and swelling caused by breastfeeding or plugged ducts. For this purpose, Susun Weed suggests steeping 2 ounces of dried marshmallow root in a half gallon of boiling water overnight. In the morning, reheat to near boiling, pour into a sink or basin and (once water is tolerable, but still very hot, soak breasts until infusion cools. Due to its tissue healing, lubricating and antibacterial properties, it makes a wonderful addition to a sitz bath or postpartum herbal soak. It's also a galactagogue, which in herbal speak means it increases a mother's milk supply. Marshmallow root is a gentle laxative making it a useful ally for new mamas that often experience constipation in the days shortly after giving birth.
During pregnancy, you can safely use this herb to make skin more elastic, which can serve as a good prevention of stretch marks and possibly lessen the risk of tearing during birth. Another common complaint of many an expectant mom is heartburn. According to herbalist Rosemary Gladstar,
“The best herbs to use for treating heartburn are those that calm the nervous system and are good digestive nervines, such as chamomile, hops and lemon balm. Mucilaginous herbs, such as marshmallow, licorice, and slippery elm, will soothe the irritated stomach lining.”
~Rosemary Gladstar, Herbal Recipe For Vibrant Health
Sadie Marie Cherico, host of the fabulous herbal podcast, Herbal Marie, suggests that marshmallow root has traditionally been given to a teething toddler as a chew stick with the one stipulation that they're watched carefully as this could present a choking hazard. Add marshmallow to a baby's bath to sooth skin issues like diaper rash.
Marshmallow is extremely gentle and its hard to go wrong, but due to it's stomach coating properties, it should be consumed an hour before or after medications on the off chance that it blocks absorption into the body.
If you know even a little about the Ayurvedic doshic principles, I'm certain you would not be surprised to learn that this sweet, cooling herb embodies and increases kapha, while reducing vata and pitta. For the appropriate situation, it's considered nutritive to the plasma, blood, muscle, marrow, nervous and reproductive tissues.
Marshmallow is said to be ruled by the planet Venus and, perhaps somewhat counter intuitively was used in medieval times to decrease sexual desire.
1 tbsp ground marshmallow root
1 cup of boiling water
2 1/2 tbsp gelatin
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup honey
1/2 cup toasted coconut (optional)
1. Using the the boiling water, make a tea with the marshmallow root, allowing the mixture to cool to lukewarm.
2. Pour the tea, vanilla, and honey and your gelatin into your mixing bowl, allowing it to gently dissolve (don't turn on the mixer just yet).
3. Once the mixture has dissolved, use the whisk attachment on the mixer and turn it to a high setting and let the magic happen. In about 8-10 minutes, you should find that the previously liquid mixture has turned into something more resembling egg whites beaten to stiff peaks.
4. Turn this mixture out into a 9 x 13 casserole dish, smoothing the top with a spatula and place it in the fridge to set overnight. Use a knife to cut into squares, and roll in the toasted coconut to prevent the marshmallows from being sticky. Seal away in an airtight container and store in the fridge.
This picture of my oldest daughter, Vita, eating my homemade marshmallows almost a decade ago when we were just a family of three, seriously melts my heart. Where the heck does the time go?