Marshmallows were the topic of discussion at my Senior Center lunch table recently.
I casually remarked, "I guess you girls know marshmallows are no longer made from the plant. Instead they are cloned. I guess you could say they are generic."
My friends looked at me like I was crazy.
They all exclaimed, "Marshmallow plant!!??"
They had no idea that a marshmallow plant exists. Of course, this gave me an opportunity to share a little herbal knowledge, which I dearly love to do.
Marshmallow is a hardy perennial. It is a coarse plant with fuzzy, ovate, toothed leaves. The young tops and leaves can be chopped into soups and stews. The roots can be added to other herbs for a demulcent tea. A poultice made from the root may be used in the treatment of boils. According to lore, it is one of the most widely used plants in herbal medicine.
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) shares a kinship with many common plants. Listed among them are cotton, okra, hibiscus, hollyhock and althaea. I have grown this plant and enjoyed its small, but beautiful, flowers that looked like miniature hibiscus.
Marshmallow has its origins in Africa. A confection made from the root since early Egyptian time has evolved into today’s marshmallow treats. The sap from the marshmallow root was the basis for this delicious morsel.
Somewhere along the line, some "smart" person decided to change the recipe. Today, gelatin is used instead of the root sap; therefore, in my opinion, we have a generic product.
Marshmallow root is a healing herb. It is very soothing and healing to soft tissues. It has been used for bronchitis, whooping cough, dysentery, cystitis, incontinence, inflamed digestive tract, lungs and swollen joints. It even enriches mother’s milk. It is high in minerals, especially calcium and oxygen. This information comes from my herbal library.
About 15 years ago, I woke one morning with extreme pain and urinary frequency. I suspected, and still feel, this was caused by a kidney stone. (As a nurse I had encountered this problem in others.) I immediately started taking two marshmallow capsules ever hour. (It is not harmful.) My pain continued. Toward the end of the day, I went to an emergency room. I wondered how I could make this 40-mile trip without stopping to urinate. The pain and frequency strangely subsided as I left home. Evidently I had passed the stone.
The physician who saw me said, "You have not passed a stone because there is no blood in your urine."
There was no need to disagree with her. However, I’ll always feel the mucilage formed by the marshmallow coated the stone allowing the stone to pass through the urethra without causing irritation. Thankfully, I have had no more symptoms of stones.
My friends and I are sad that today’s marshmallow treat is not a marshmallow after all.
(As always, I advise you to check with your doctor before taking herbal products.)