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Helpful Herbs: Marshmallow

The delicate, soft petals of the Marshmallow flower aren't the only reason it is linked to a candy confection. Since Ancient Egypt the stinky, sweet sap and white roots of the plant have been used to make sweets, including the puffy white dessert that carries its name. Its properties aren't just sweet, however. Marshmallow is also a powerful healing herb.

Marshmallow plants are hardy and can grow in shade or sun. They are sown directly as seeds in the fall or early spring, or can be started from root divisions or cuttings from an established plant. Preferring loose, damp soil, Marshmallow grows naturally in marshes and boggy areas. They will need regular watering, and plenty of space as they can grow up to three or four feet tall.

The leaves, flowers, and roots of the Marshmallow plant can all be harvested for their healing properties. Flowers can be clipped and dried on a screen until they are are thoroughly crisp and retain no moisture. The roots and leaves are similarly harvested, cleaned thoroughly, and dried before use. Roots should be cut into small sections before drying.

Marshmallow is a soothing plant. It can be used topically or ingested depending on your discomfort, and is often mixed into elixirs and tinctures for healing. The flowers can make a syrup that soothes coughing, and the roots and leaves are often used to ease pains in the digestive system. While it can treat sore throats, colds, and fever, Marshmallow is most commonly used for intestinal discomfort, and is said to ease constipation and diarrhea. Additionally, a tincture or rub of Marshmallow extract can soothe the pain of arthritis, and it can help ease the passing of kidney stones.

Used in a cream or salve, Marshmallow will help to smooth skin irritations. It can relieve acne and help to alleviate rashes. Legend has it that Marshmallow can also be used as an aphrodisiac.

Marshmallow has long been used to make sweet treats. The Ancient Egyptians would mix the sap with honey and nuts, and the roots of the plant are part of the fluffy white treat that carries its name. You can use the roots of the plant to make your own homemade marshmallows. With a powder made of the dried roots of Marshmallow, honey, gelatin, and a few other ingredients, marshmallows can be simmered, strained, mixed, and left to harden into gooey fireside sweets quite easily.

Sweets aren't the only use culinary use for the Marshmallow root. They can be chopped up and used as seasoning around a roast just like potatoes or onions. They add a sweet element when cooked in with soups, especially fall flavored dishes. In the Middle East they are part of a sweet snack called halva, and the flowers can be tossed in a salad. Marshmallows are sometimes used as a famine food: not otherwise commonly consumed but in times of need boiled or fried to provide sustenance.

Marshmallow's healing properties have been used for centuries. Ancient Greeks used Marshmallow as a syrup for coughs and in tinctures to treat insect bites. Ancient Arabians would use it for treatment of toothaches and wounds, and a poultice of Marshmallow was used to treat wounds inflicted on those suspected during the Spanish Inquisition. Consumed in times of hunger, Marshmallow is mentioned in the Book of Job as a food eaten during famine. The Ancient Chinese grew it for cooking and Emperor Charlemagne kept it in his gardens.

The tender blossoms of the Marshmallow plant would be beautiful in a purely decorative garden. To add to their beauty are their endless benefits and uses, which reach from the tips of those blossom down into their soft, white roots.


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