I was delighted with our first harvest of Marshmallow root from the bed we planted. In celebration, I decided to make a truly delicious herbal preparation from this wonderful healer - real herbal marshmallows!
Traditionally, marshmallows were made using real Marshmallow root, a wonderful herb that has an abundance of gooey mucilage and pectin, providing the soft structure of marshmallows. The ingredient list on a packet of modern day marshmallows showed the following ingredients, with no real Marshmallow in sight:
Sugar, Wheat Glucose Syrup, Water, Gelatine, Corn Starch, Flavours, Colour.
Many of the homemade recipes on the web also use little or no Marshmallow root, instead relying on the sugar and gelatin to provide the structure of the marshmallows. Of the recipes I found using real Marshmallow root, the root was often extracted using hot water - which does not sufficiently extract the wonderful gooey constituents that you need for creating that fluffy structure.
Here’s the trick - to best extract the mucilage from Marshmallow root, start with a cold water infusion. Simply let the chopped herb sit in cold water for 2+ hours and you will notice the water get thick and gooey - this is the mucilage and pectin coming out. Simmering the mixture after this further extracts other constituents.
Now the marshmallow extract just requires some sweetening, a little vanilla to flavour, and something to give some firmness to the structure. Options for this include egg whites, gelatin, gum tragacanth or agar (these last two are vegan options). I chose gelatin for this recipe, however I would also add egg white next time for increased fluffiness.
Apart from the fun of making this herbal creation, why is Marshmallow such a wonderful herb to grow and use? This soft and gentle healer, Althaea officinalis, has much to offer us as plant medicine. The soothing properties of Marshmallow root heal hot, inflamed and irritated conditions of the body, whether this is in the form of a sore throat, chronic cough, stomach ulcer, reflux, burning urination or eczema on the skin. Research has shown the anti-inflammatory action of Marshmallow to be superior to medication (1), and the protective qualities have been shown to also enhance the immune response to heal infections in the gut and skin (2).
To use Marshmallow root as medicine, infuse 1-2 tsp of dried root in a half cup of cold water for 2 hours. Top up with boiling water and drink as a tea. Marshmallow root also extracts well as a glycetract.
Sweetener note: honey can be used for this recipe, however I chose not to as the recipe requires boiling the honey which is seen to be toxic in Ayurveda. On a practical note, the heaviness of honey can mean it falls to the bottom of the marshmallows, and the flavour can be a bit overpowering.
1 - (Beaune, A. and Balea, T. [Anti-inflammatory experimental properties of marshmallow: its potentiating action on the local effects of corticoids]. Therapie 1966;21(2):341-347)
2 - (Recio MC and et al. Antimicrobial activity of selected plants employed in the Spanish Mediterranean area, Part II. Phytother Res 1989;3:77-80)