Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) is indeed the original source of the sweet with this name. Marsh mallow’s powdered root contains a mucilage that thickens in water and was heated with sugar to create a soothing sweet paste. However, the only thing is common with the store bought marshmallow of today, is the sugar!
Introduced from China, marsh mallows were eaten by the Egyptians and the Syrians, and mentioned by Pythagoras, Plato and Virgil. The plant was enjoyed by the Romans in barley soup and in a stuffing for suckling pig. Classical herbalists praised its gentle laxative properties.(1)
Marshmallow has long been used effectively in poultices to counteract inflammation, and in cough syrups. at one time it was thought of as a virtual cure-all. The Roman writer Pliny declared that anyone taking “a spoonful of mallows, shall that day be free from all disease that may come to him.” Sixteenth century herbalist Culpeper, suggested boiling the roots and leaves with parsleyor fennel”to ease pains in the belly”, and this remedy is still used.
Cosmetically, the liquid from the steeped root is used as a soothing mucilage for dry hands, sunburn and dry hair. It is also added the the final rinse water during washing one’s hair to help with detangling and nourishing the hair.
A soothing ointment recipe for you:
Marshmallow and comfrey ointment
For wounds and inflamed or ulcerated skin
30ml shea butter (or, cocoa butter)
15ml powdered marshmallow root (Grind the dried root in your coffee grinder, or grind it down in your pestle and mortar)
30ml comfrey infusion (the tea made by infusing the comfrey leaves in hot water for 30 minutes)
1. Melt the butter over a pan of hot water. Mix in the powdered marshmallow root and comfrey infusion
2. Stir the ointment as it cools and pour into a small pot just before it sets. Keeps for 2 months (2)
(1) Bremness, L. & Norman, J. 1997, The complete Book of Herbs and Spices, Dorling Kindersley, London
(2) Aromatherapy and Natural Health series: Herbal A-Z