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Ancient Greece provides the first written record  of Marshmallow. The Athenian philosopher Theophrastus, (372 bce - 287 bce) recommended drinking a combination of sweet wine and marshmallow as a cough remedy. Along with philosophy, he was interested in the natural sciences and is credited with being the first person to create a classification of plants. This classification laid the foundation for the scientific study of plants, botany.

Botanical drawing of Marshmallow plant depicting flower, leaf structure on stalk and root

In Greek, Althea means "to heal"  and the plant was referred to by this name in Ancient Greece. The people of Greece and later Rome were using all parts of the plant to treat conditions ranging from wounds to toothaches to digestive issues. The fact that around 200 bce there were close to five recorded medicinal uses for different parts of the plant indicates that it was likely being used as a treatment long before this  The Romans ate it as a vegetable, and it was considered a delicacy. It was also eaten as a vegetable and used medicinally in China and the Middle East. It is more than likely that historically the plant was used for food and in traditional medicine in every area where it grew.

The root, stems, and to some degree the leaves have mucilage qualities, which means that they secrete a substance that is gel-like and is cooling and slippery. In Europe during the Medieval period, men and women accused of crimes were put through an ordeal and made to hold a red-hot iron rod to determine their innocence or guilt. The innocent would have no serious burns, the guilty, of course, would be burned badly. There is lore that both the guilty and the innocent would apply a mallow ointment to their hands before the ordeal to protect themselves from bad burns, and thus trick the system.

Marshmallow is native to much of Europe, Asia and North Africa. In England, where it was introduced by the Romans, it received it's lasting common name Marshmallow as it prefers to be near water, and grows in salt marshes and damp meadows, ditches and tidal rivers. The plant is a perennial and can grow to be 3 or 4 feet high.

Four petaled cream coloured Marshmallow flower. the stamen forms a pink barrel shape in the center.The green of leaves is in the back ground

The plant is in the same family as hollyhocks, hibiscus and other mallows. All are medicinal but the Marshmallow contains the highest concentration of mucilage. The leaves are best harvested in springtime when there is new growth. Flowers appear in late summer August and September, followed by a fruit. The flowers and seeds can be harvested after they develop. The roots need to be harvested from plants that are two to three years old in late fall and in winter.  It contains high concentrations of several minerals such as iron, selenium, magnesium and calcium.

As the plant is prolific, during times of crop failure and famine, the root was relied on as food. In Europe, the root was boiled to soften and then fried in butter, or other fat with onions. The young leaves and tops may still be eaten in parts of France as a spring kidney tonic. I say 'may be' because many of the traditional uses of plants have been lost except in increasingly isolated and small pockets.

The French are credited with creating a confection that evolved into the modern marshmallow candy. They would peel the root to expose the white fibrous pulp and boil it to soften. The root is naturally sweet and as its sweetness released, sugar would be added. The mallow thickened the confection. Modern commercial marshmallows no longer contain the root.

Marshmallow leaf with other leaves visible in background

Marshmallow has anti-inflammatory properties. Early Arabic doctors applied the leaves as a poultice to soothe inflammation. Mucilage acts to coat the sensitive mucosal lining of the digestive and respiratory tracts. This coating allows for healing to occur and the anti-inflammatory action soothes any irritations in the internal lining. This is why it is an excellent remedy for coughs. The root is used to promote healing for external wounds, internally to soothe the entire digestive tract.

Studies have been done which verify the anti-inflammatory benefits and other studies also indicate that it has antimicrobial properties and that it may have the positive effect of reducing blood glucose levels. Research is being done into its ability to encourage the growth of new cells. Experiential evidence indicates that it does assist in cell regeneration, which may be due to the fact that it soothes and so contributes to an environment where cells can healthily reproduce.

Marshmallow root in joins other soothing and antioxidant ingredients in our Organic Aloe & Shea Shave Cream. The cream will protect skin from the rigors of shaving, and leave your skin feeling smooth and supple.

Our Organic Aloe, Shea Butter & Jojoba Body Cream harnesses the power of the mucilage in Marshmallow root. The mucilage acts as a wash to infuse the skin with hydration. At the same time, it improves the skin's ability to retain moisture. The Aloe, Shea Butter and Jojoba bring their anti-oxidant and nutritive properties to this rich and transforming cream.

Written by Jen Bator — April 09, 2017

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