Introduction and description
Althaea officinalis (marsh-mallow, marsh mallow, or common marshmallow) is a perennial species indigenous to Europe, western Asia, and North Africa, which is used as a medicinal and ornamental plant.
A confection has been made from the roots since ancient Egyptian times and gradually evolved into what we now know as marshmallows, however, the marshmallows you can buy in the shops today owe very little to the original recipe.
We have provided some recipes below that show how the real marshmallows are made. The current cornflour, gelatine, artificial flavouring and refined sugar marshmallows sold by candy manufacturers are not 'the real McCoy' at all and have no medicinal properties.
The generic name, Althaea, is derived from the Greek "ἄλθειν" (to cure), from its healing properties. The name of the family, Malvaceae, is derived from the Greek "μαλακός" (soft; Latin "mollis"), from the special qualities of the mallows in softening and healing.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Althaea officinalis is known as 藥蜀葵 (pinyin: yàoshǔkuí).
Harold McGee - On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
the first marshmallow-like confection, called pâte de Guimauve, was made in France from the juice of the marsh mallow. Owners of small candy stores put the whipped sap from the mallow root into a candy mold. This time-consuming process was typically done by hand. Indeed, candy stores had a very hard time keeping up with the demand. Now, marshmallows are made by piping the fluffy mixture through long tubes and cutting its tubular shape into equal pieces.
In Belgium, they're still called Guimauves, and in some places they make them the traditional way with marsh mallow plant. Very often the chocolate makers - who specialise in Belgium's justly famous hand made chocolates - also use hand made marsh mallows and cover them with dark chocolate.
In the Lebanin and Syria, a herbal tea called the "Zhourat" has Marsh Mallow as one of its principle ingredients. This herbal tea consists of a blend of wild flowers, herbs, leaves and fruits and is a typical beverage of Lebanon and Syria. Although the ingredients in Zhourat do vary significantly as there is no standard recipe, one study found that in spite of the "Zhourat's" highly variable content, there were a determined set of key botanical components including Rosa x damascena Herrm.[Damask rose], Althaea damascena and officinalis Mouterde [Marsh mallow], Matricaria chamomilla L. [Chamomile], Aloysia citrodora Palau [Lemon verbena], and Elaeagnus angustifolia L.[Wild olive].
As the study said "The major health claims for 'Zhourat' as digestive, sedative and for respiratory problems are culturally coherent with the analysis of the traditional medicinal properties uses of its ingredients".
Most of the mallows have been used as food, and are mentioned by early classic writers with this connection.
Family: Mallow (Malvaceae) Hardiness: All temperate zones. Herbaceous perennial native to Europe. A premier healing agent, marshmallow root is nutritious, soothing to the digestion, stimulating to the immune system and helps prevent and repair ulcerations of the gastric mucosa and duodenum. Sow the seed in the spring. It is easy to grow in regular garden soil in the full sun or part shade. The plant prefers regular watering and makes a lot of biomass, both above the ground and below. Every part of the plant, including leaf, flower (and less useful, the stem) and especially the fresh or dried root, is useful in herbal medicine and is truly indespensable.
Although the value of the roots in medicine have been long known, the flowers too have healing potential. In one fascinating study three colours of petals of Althaea officinalis (A. officinalis) flowers, i.e., pink, reddish pink, and white were examined for total antioxidant activity and ﬂavonoids content. The researchers found that the reddish pink flowers have more antioxidant activity and the power of antioxidant activity was reddish pink > pink > white. The findings suggested that the dark colour can serve as an indicator of antioxidant content of the plant. Flavonoid content was highest in white flower meaning that the flowers with a light colour “can be considered for medicinal uses”. [PMID: 25050239]
Marsh mallow, like many plants can chelate soil contaminated with heavy metals. We can look at this in two ways. If we look at it negatively, it means that a plant we think of as a healing plant could actually do us harm if grown in polluted soil. On the positive side, it might mean that the same plant - if grown under safe conditions may be able to chelate us.
Furthermore, as a means of cleansing soil before healing plants are grown, Marsh mallow appears to be very effective being able to deal with a host of heavy metals. [see observation below].
Nutrients and chemical properties
The following extract from Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases, lists the Chemicals and their Biological Activities in:
(Malvaceae) -- Marshmallow, White Mallow.
Where no activity has been reported, the chemical is excluded. The full list with all chemicals is available on Dr Duke’s site for those who are interested. We have concentrated on only the activities related to pathogens – viruses, toxins such as heavy metals, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. The other activity listed has a tendency to be a further benefit from the basic activity against the pathogens eg anti-dementia means the plant has the ability to fight whatever is causing the dementia.
The minerals and vitamins as well as essential amino acids are also highlighted, but their activity is not listed as it repeats what is in other sections of this site. A link is provided to these pages.
- The root - has diuretic properties and one chemical has what is called antisickling properties - preventing or counteracting the sickling of red blood cells (as in sickle cell anemia). As expected from past historical uses, the root has expectorant properties that help with coughs. But it also has soothing effects on the stomach against gastritits and ulcers and pain relieving properties. One of the chemicals in the root is pectin – which means that this helps with the ‘setting’ of any food made with the root [it is the pectin in fruit that makes jam set]
- Leaf – the concentration on the root has rather diverted attention away from the leaf which has very interesting analgesic and pain killing chemicals – one of which is salicyclic acid. The leaf also appears to be able to help with skin conditions – eczema, dermatitis and even dandruff! And it has ‘blood thinning’ properties too. When one examines the properties, the leaf actually has more potential than the root medicinally with anti-depressant activity, anti-anxiety activity, sedative, anti-bacterial and extensive anti-viral activity. There appear to be beneficial actions on over activated thyroid possibly via this pathogen related activity. Similarly there are studies which show it helps with pancreatitis and various forms of cancer [lung, breast, pancreas, bladder, colon, ovary etc] – again possibly via its ability to chelate heavy metals or fight pathogens. Like the root it has antiasthmatic activity principally via the chemical Scopoletin which is a natural bronchorelaxant
ARABINOGALACTAN Plant: Antileishmanic 250 ug/ml;
ASCORBIC-ACID Seed 1,640 ppm;
ASPARAGINE Root 10,000 - 20,000 ppm
BETAINE Root 40,000 ppm;
BUTYRIC-ACID Plant: Nematistat 880 ug/ml; Pesticide
CAFFEIC-ACID Leaf: Antiadenoviral; Antibacterial; Antiescherichic; Antiflu; Antihepatotoxic; Antiherpetic 50 ug/ml EC50=>50 ug/ml; AntiLegionella; Antileukemic; Antistaphylococcic; Antivaccinia; Antiviral IC50=62.5 ug/ml; ; Fungicide MIC=0.4 mg/ml; ; Insectifuge; Metal-Chelator; Pesticide;
CALCIUM Root 8,160 ppm;
CHLOROGENIC-ACID Plant: Antibacterial; AntiEBV; Antiherpetic; AntiHIV; AntiLegionella; Antipolio; Antiviral; Fungicide; Insectifuge; Larvistat; Metal-Chelator; Pesticide;
CHROMIUM Root 15 ppm;
COBALT Root 33 ppm;
FERULIC-ACID Plant: Antibacterial; Antiherpetic; Antileukemic IC50=25-56 ug/ml; Antiviral; Candidicide; Fungicide; Insectifuge; Metal-Chelator; Pesticide;
IRON Root 1,150 ppm;
KAEMPFEROL Leaf: Antiaflatoxin IC50=3.28 ppm IC50=8.73 uM; Antibacterial 20 ug/ml; Antigingivitic 20 ug/ml; Antiherpetic 23-92 ug/ml; Antileukemic IC50=3.1 ug/ml; Antiperiodontic 20 ug/ml; Antiplaque; Antistaphylococcic; Antiviral 23-92 ug/ml; Copper-Chelator; Fungicide 20 ug/ml;
MAGNESIUM Root 5,180 ppm;
MANGANESE Root 44 ppm;
MUCILAGE Root 62,000 - 350,000 ppm
P-COUMARIC-ACID Leaf: Antibacterial; Antihepatotoxic; Antileukemic IC50=25-56 ug/ml; Fungicide;
P-HYDROXY-BENZOIC-ACID Plant: Antibacterial;
PECTIN Root 110,000 - 350,000 ppm Antibacterial; Fungicide; Pesticide
PHOSPHORUS Root 2,560 ppm;
POTASSIUM Root 12,100 ppm;
QUERCETIN Leaf: Antiaflatoxin IC50=25 uM IC50=7.5 ppm; Antibacterial; Antiescherichic; Antiflu; Antiherpetic 48-150 ug/ml; AntiHIV; Antileishmanic IC50=64; Antileukemic 5.5-60 uM IC50=10 uM IC50=>10 ug/ml; Antimalarial IC50=1-6.4 ug/ml; Antipolio; Antistreptococcic ID50=120 ug/ml; Antitrypanosomic IC50=13; Antiviral 48-150 ug/ml IC50=10 uM; Bacteristat 10 mg/ml; Candidicide; Copper-Chelator; Fungicide; HIV-RT-Inhibitor IC50=<1 ug/ml; Larvistat 8,000 ppm diet; Metal-Chelator (Copper); Pesticide;
QUERCETIN-3'-GLUCOSIDE Plant: Antibacterial; Pesticide
RIBOFLAVIN Root 0.5 ppm;
SALICYLIC-ACID Leaf: Antibacterial; Fungicide MIC 1,000 ug/ml; Insectifuge; Pesticide;
SCOPOLETIN Leaf: ; Antiaflatoxin 11.4 ppm IC50=65 uM; Antibacterial; Antihepatotoxic; Fungicide 2 mM; Pesticide;
SILICON Root 30 ppm;
SODIUM Root 1,370 ppm;
SUGAR Root 50,000 - 110,000 ppm
TANNIN Root 20,000 ppm; Anthelmintic [An agent that destroys or causes the expulsion of parasitic intestinal worms]; Antibacterial; Antidysenteric; Antihepatotoxic; AntiHIV; Antiophidic [A substance able to counteract the toxin from the bite of a venomous snake]; Antiviral; Chelator; Pesticide;
THIAMIN Root 1 ppm;
TIN Root 29 ppm; Antiacne; Antibacterial; Pesticide; Taenicide [A medicine that destroys tapeworms]
VANILLIC-ACID Leaf: Anthelmintic; Antibacterial 1.5-15 mg/ml; Antileukemic IC50=25-56 ug/ml; Ascaricide [acts against any of a family (Ascaridae) of nematode worms that includes the common roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides) parasitic in the human intestine]; Fungicide; Pesticide;
The best way to take the medicine is via something that is delicious and there is nothing more delicious than a home made marsh mallow.
Original Basic Marshmallows From Marshmallow Root recipe number
4 tablespoons marshmallow roots
28 tablespoons refined sugar boiled until syrup and on point of crystalising, or I large cup of honey
20 tablespoons gum arabic
2 cups water
1 -2 egg white, well beaten
Optional flavourings - 1 teaspoon vanilla or chopped mint, lemon rind grated, orange water, rose water, cocoa powder or melted chocolate)
Make sure the mallow roots aren’t mouldy or too woody. Marshmallow gives off almost twice its own weight of mucilaginous gel when placed in water.
Make a tea of marshmallow roots by simmering in a pint of water for twenty to thirty minutes [or more]. Add additional water if it simmers down.
Soak the gum in ½ cup water. Stir the gum vigorously and plop it into a blender. Strain out the root liquid into the blender and blend the root liquid and the gum paste very thoroughly.
Heat the gum and marshmallow decoction (water) in a double boiler until they are dissolved together.
Stir in the sugar or honey as quickly as possible. The honey makes a sloppier marsh mallow but tastes delicious and is medicinally better being anti-bacterial. When dissolved, add the well beaten egg whites, stirring constantly, but take off the fire and continue to stir.
Divide into batches and to each batch add flavouring of choice eg lemon rind to one, chocolate to another, mint leaves to another, vanilla to another, orange or rose flower water to another etc
Lay out on a flat surface. Let cool, and cut into smaller pieces.
For serving mix up the pieces as this adds an element of surprise when you eat them. They go well with black coffee, hot chocalte and green tea.
Eleanor Parkinson’s 1844 Complete Confectioner
Pastes Formed With Gum - Pate De Guimauve - Marsh-Mallow Paste
Gum Arabic three pounds, roots of fresh marsh-mallows eight ounces, one dozen of rennet apples, loaf sugar three pounds. Peel, core, and cut the apples in pieces. Cleanse the roots, and slice them lengthways in an oblique direction; add this to seven pints of water; soft or river water is the best when filtered; put it on the fire and boil for a quarter of an hour, or until reduced to six pints; pound and sift the gum through a hair sieve; strain the decoction into a pan with the gum; put it on a moderate fire, or into a bain-marie, stirring it until the gum is perfectly dissolved; then strain it through a coarse towel or tamis cloth, the ends being twisted by two persons; add it to the sugar, which has been previously clarified and boiled to the feather; dry it well over the fire, keeping it constantly stirred from the bottom. When it has acquired a thick consistence, take the whites of eighteen eggs, and whip them to a strong froth; add them to the paste, and dry until it does not stick to the hand when it is applied to it; add a little essence of neroli, or a large glassful of double orange-flower water, and evaporate again to the same consistence. Pour it on a marble slab well dusted with starch-powder, flatten it with the hand; the next day cut it into strips, powder each strip, and put them in boxes. Powder the bottom that they may not stick.
Although starch powder works, these are more tasty dusted with icing sugar.
Mallow was an edible vegetable among the Romans; a dish of marsh mallow was one of their delicacies.
Prosper Alpinus stated in 1592 that a plant of the mallow kind was eaten by the Egyptians. Many of the poorer inhabitants of Syria once subsisted for weeks on herbs, of which marsh mallow is one of the most common. When boiled first and fried with onions and butter, the roots are said to form ‘a palatable dish’.
But there appear to be other ideas on the Internet that have more imaginative uses for marshmallow root.
One is to boil and mash the root and combine it with mashed parsnip, which has a similar texture.
This can then be eaten with butter as a simple savoury vegetable. Add cheese to it and bake it in the oven [perhaps with crispy bacon added and fried onion] and you have an interesting 'roast' to serve with a salad.
We have also seen recipes that use it as a replacement for sweet potato in salads like the one shown - a warm salad combining nuts, roasted root and brussel sprouts, with a dressing of cider vinegar, honey and nut oil [eg hazelnut] depending on the nuts used. Roasted hazelnuts and roasted sunflower seeds go well in this recipe, as do pistachios.
The root extract (halawa extract) is sometimes used as flavouring in the making of the Middle Eastern snack called halva.
The flowers and young leaves can also be eaten, and "are often added to salads or are boiled and fried".
References and further reading
- Cavero, R (2 December 2014). "Medicinal plants used for respiratory affections in Navarra and their pharmacological validation". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 158 (Part A): 216–220
- Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis L.) monograph. Basch E, Ulbricht C, Hammerness P, Vora M. J Herb Pharmacother. 2003;3(3):71-81. PMID: 15277059
- Flavonoids, Phenolic Acids and Coumarins from the Roots of Althaea officinalis. Gudej J. Planta Med. 1991 Jun;57(3):284-5. PMID: 1722616
- The antioxidant and Flavonoids contents of Althaea officinalis L. flowers based on their color - Avicenna J Phytomed. 2012 Summer;2(3):113-7. Sadighara P1, Gharibi S2, Moghadam Jafari A3, Jahed Khaniki G1, Salari S4. PMID: 25050239
- Antitussive activity of Althaea officinalis L. polysaccharide rhamnogalacturonan and its changes in guinea pigs with ovalbumine-induced airways inflammation 017635
- Dr Duke's list of aluminium chelating plants 017803
- Dr Duke's list of Plants Containing QUERCETIN 021446
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing SALICYLIC ACID 020467
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing SELENIUM 020550
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiaflatoxin Activity 018393
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antianorectic activity 018409
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antianorexic activity 018410
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiataxic activity 018348
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antibacterial activity 018352
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antibph activity 018354
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticancer (colon) activity 018455
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticancer (forestomach) activity 018458
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticancer (liver) activity 018461
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticancer (skin) activity 018466
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticoeliac activity 018431
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticystitic activity 018442
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antidiabetic activity 018473
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antidote (Mercury) activity 018376
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiheartburn Activity 019973
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antikeratitic Activity 019936
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antipapillomic Activity from multiple chemicals 018899
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Copper chelator activity 018387
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with HIV-RT-Inhibitor Activity 018288
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Metal chelating ability from FERULIC ACID - PART 1 018253
- Dr Duke’s list of Plants with a number of chemicals having AntiMeniere's Activity 021279
- Effect of EDTA and Tannic Acid on the Removal of Cd, Ni, Pb and Cu from Artificially Contaminated Soil by Althaea rosea Cavan 017634
- Hypoglycemic activity evaluation and chemical study on hollyhock flowers 017636
- Marsh mallow poulticing 019458
- Medicinal plants in a Middle Paleolithic grave Shanidar IV 021691
- Mrs Grieve on Marsh mallow 017239
- Mrs Grieve on Slippery Elm 017215
- Pharmacological evaluation of aqueous extract of Althaea officinalis flower grown in Lebanon 017632
- Study on composition, antibiotic activity and antioxidant activity of volatile oils from uyghur medicine Althaea rosea 017633
- The antitussive activity of polysaccharides from Althaea officinalis l., var. Robusta, Arctium lappa L., var. Herkules, and Prunus persica L., Batsch. 017637
- Transformation of Althaea officinalis L. by Agrobacterium rhizogenes for the production of transgenic roots expressing the anti-HIV microbicide cyanovirin-N 017638