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The Practical Herbalist


In the days before food came in neat plastic wrappers, people had a closer relationship with where food comes from. Many important foods and herbs of old are now forgotten. Some names of the past survive in our grocery stores, but in rather peculiar ways. The white candy and confectioners sauce known as Marshmallow, has its historical roots in a plant that at one time was considered so important that the Emperor Charlemagne ordered that the plant be grown throughout his empire.

The Marshmallow plant (Althea officinalis),is of the malvacea family, and the roots were used in cooking. The Latin scientific name Althea, is a Greek term that means "to heal", and it does actually grow near marshes. It grows wild in many parts of North America, but was originally brought here by European settlers.

The roots have a high starch content that made them an important food source when other foods were scarce. The root is classified by herbalists as a demulcent . This means that this root helps nourish the moist qualities in the body, especially tissues like the nose and throat which need to stay moist. Marshmallow was also used topically to help tissues to heal, and prevent infection.

Marshmallow root was used for many things. It was often used to thicken sauces and formed the basis of many cough syrups. It was also taken to relieve various kidney and bladder problems, including stones and infections. Its reputation in regards to nourishing fluids in the body also made it an important home remedy for insufficient lactation.

Somewhere along the line, someone added sugar to a marshmallow sauce and created a simple candy. That candy lives on as both as a sugary sauce, and as a puffy candy often used in cooking. The Marshmallows we know today are not made with actual Marshmallow, they are made of corn syrup, sugar, starch and gelatin. They do however still retain the creamy sweet qualities that made the original Marshmallow so important.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066