One of the greatest disappointments in life so far for my five year old (five, but nearly six as she’d be keen for you to know), is the fact that Marshmallow plants don’t actually bear marshmallows. For me it’s offerings are far better than fluffy pink and white confectionery (which do, of course, take their name the plant from which they were originally made) and today, disappointed though she may be in the plant, my daughter is most grateful for it.
As I stroked her soft cheek this morning and told her that she was too ill for school, Marshmallow immediately came to mind. Althea officinalis epitomises softness for me. From it downy leaves (so reminiscent of the softness of a child cheek!), to it’s powder pink petals and it’s mucilage packed soothing, softening roots, Marshmallow is the feather-down-duvet of herbs! And today my girl, with her “sorest” of sore throats, needed it.
Today I have used the roots of this herb, decocting them to extract that incredibly soothing mucilage. Mucilage that I want to coat her throat, to soothe and ease inflammation, and to moisten the mucous membranes (the dryness here made itself known to her through the night) – thereby making the throat less painful. This in turn will help her eat and sleep – two things that will help her on the road to recovery!
Being water soluble, mucilage is successfully extracted by the simmering water of a decoction. This morning I made a bottle of Marhsmallow root syrup by adding and gently melting 400 grams of sugar in 200 ml of a strong Marshmallow root decoction. Syrups are by nature demulcent, making them a suitable preparation for a sore throat, where a coating action is desirable. My daughter is taking a dessertspoon of the gelatinous, sweet syrup every few hours. Feeling a slight heat and scratch in my throat and Eustachian tubes too, I am joining her and enjoying the immediate relief experienced.
I particularly enjoy working with this root. It always feels like a practical lesson in plant polysaccharides! I love the natural sweetness (which makes even a simple decotion of the root palatable for a child), the primrose yellow colour the aqueous extract and the incredible gloopy mucilage that we liberate. The roots have been used as a remedy for the respiratory system for centuries. The ancient Greeks macerated the roots in wine and used this as a cough treatment, whilst in France the original form of the Marshmallow confectionery were in fact soft lozenges sucked on to alleviate sore throats.
Energetically Marshmallow cools and moistens, and this effect isn’t isolated to the respiratory system. These properties have applications in the digestive and urinary systems too, when there is heat, inflammation, dryness and irritation. Some prefer to use the leaf over the root when working with inflammation in the urinary system.
I began this post at lunchtime and now it’s early evening. A few doses in and my daughter now feels able to eat as it’s not so sore to swallow. My throat feels much better although one ear is niggling. We will both carry on with our little bottle of yellow goodness and it has already offered relief to another family member too, who dropped in complaining of heart burn. Althea officinalis, sweetly softening, gentle and soothing – thank you for your assistance today!