By Dori Cranmore RN

When we think of marshmallows, generally the image of a white, sugary fluff ball comes to mind, right? Or a big fire with a bag of sugary fluffed candy ready to go on the end of a stick to roast to a toasty brown, melting the insides, then squished between graham crackers and a Hershey bar, calling it a smore. They are made into shapes to match each holiday season, colored ones and just recently I saw ginormous fluff balls on the grocery shelf. At first I thought it was a joke, but no, it really was giant marshmallows in a bag. That’s really sad because now they’ll have to ‘super-size’ the graham crackers so they can fit the smore’s. (So much for addressing the obesity in our children and general population)

Okay so why am I discussing these fluffy balls of sugar? Marshmallows of today are a far cry from their ancient ancestors. Maybe I need to share some history with you.

Marsh mallow is a genus of herb that is native to parts of Europe, North Africa and Asia. Marsh mallow is grown in marshes and damp areas and is harvested from salt marshes and on banks near large bodies of water. The botanical name is Althea officinalis.

Around 2000BC the Egyptians discovered if they boiled the root of the Marsh mallow plant and mixed it with honey it was soothing for sore throats and coughs. The Greeks, Arabs and Indians used Marsh mallow for medicinal purposes. Ancient cultures considered Marsh mallow a food to be eaten in a time of famine, as well as a natural healer for abscesses and boils, burns, digestive upset, inflammation, insect bites and stings, sore throat, toothache, urinary irritation and wounds.

European herbalists in the 17th century expanded Marsh mallow’s uses to include bronchial asthma, bronchial congestion, dry coughs, fevers, hoarseness, pleurisy, shortness of breath, tuberculosis, wheezing, and other respiratory complaints. By the mid-19th century, Marsh mallow had been included in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia for treating colds, diarrhea, dysentery, gastrointestinal problems, gonorrhea, hoarseness, and most any condition affecting the genital-urinary tract, including cystitis, frequent urination, incontinence, painful urination and urinary tract infection.

Modern research has found Marsh mallow improves immune system function by enhancing the action of white blood cells against microorganisms. Other research indicates a possible reduction in blood sugar levels using marsh mallow, which could be a benefit to diabetics. There are no health hazards or side effects but should be taken 1-2 hours away from general medications and supplements as it can result in impaired absorption because of the mucous.

So what is this plant made of and how does it work? The root of the Marsh mallow plant produces a sticky, white, almost jelly-like substance. It is made up of about 37% starch, 11% mucilage and 11% pectin. It contains flavonoids and phenolic acids and is an ample source of trace minerals, particularly chromium, iron, magnesium and selenium. Marsh mallow increases the production of mucosal fluids which eases inflamed tissues and helps heal both internal and external inflammatory conditions. It is especially beneficial for soothing and protecting mucous membranes. Efficacy has been demonstrated when used as a gargle for inflammation of the mucous membrane of the mouth and throat.

You notice the two words Marsh and mallow have been separated when I talk about the true herb. Around 1850 when France decided to make Marshmallow convection’s the two words became one. They would use the herbs root sap as a binding agent and mix it with egg whites, corn syrup and water. They were poured onto the corn starch in small molds making the first “marshmallows”. By 1900, marshmallows were available for mass consumption and sold as penny candy. In 1955 an American invented a new machine and changed the history of marshmallow production and it is still used today. Sadly to say, today’s white fluffy marshmallows have no medicinal value at all as they contain no trace of marsh mallow herb. They are simply a mixture of High fructose Corn Syrup or sugar, gelatin, gum arabic and flavoring.

True Marshmallow root is available in bulk, capsules and tinctures.

For more information call 907-376-8327.

Information provided is for Educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any diseases.