The mallow family may not have as many medicinal species as other plant families which I have discussed in my blog but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a relevant plant family. The word ‘Mallow’ comes from the Greek ‘Malakos’ and means ‘soft or soothing’. I am lucky enough to have common mallow appearing wild in my garden and I cultivate marshmallow. The Malvaceae, or the mallows, are a family of flowering plants containing over 200 genera with close to 2,300 species, the largest concentration being found in South America.
Many of these species are found in rather dry habitats, often near the sea – I live close to the seaside and the common mallow which grows wild in my garden has taken up residence in between the paving slabs which make up the paths in my garden, as well as next to my alley way door and the wall in my front garden – all areas where the rain doesn’t get too as much!. The mallow family generally have a high mucilage content which may be a way in which they can conserve their fluids.
You may be thinking about marshmallows – which grow in marsh land. That isn’t a dry habitat!! But when you think about it marshes tend to have high concentrations of salt which can have a dehydrating effect.
- Mallows usually have soft, velvety hairs covering stems and leaves.
- They tend to be greyish, rather than bright green.
- Leaves are petiolate, alternate, simple, and usually palmately veined.
- The flowers are almost always bisexual and actinomorphic (radially symmetrical). In the UK species, there are 5 petals, usually in pink or purple (occasionally white). There are many stamens and at least 2 fused carpels.
Did you know that marshmallows were originally formulated as a form of medicine? Mucilage is edible. It is used in medicine for its demulcent properties. Traditionally marshmallows were made from the extract of the mucilaginous root of the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis); due to the demulcent nature of the extract, it served as a cough suppressant. Also did you know that the vegetable okra is part of this family? If you are on facebook or go online you may have seen the numerous posts and articles about the health benefits of this green vegetable 🙂
Hibiscus is another member of this family and is another herb which I use medicinally – it makes a delicious tea which can support the reduction of high blood pressure. Gossypium spp. also comes from this delightful plant family whose long silky hairs (characteristic of Malvaceae) are harvested commercially to produce cotton.
The key medicinal theme of this plant family is their demulcent (internal) and vulnerary (external) effects on the body. Demulcent herbs are rich in mucilage and can soothe and protect irritated or inflamed tissue within the body and vulnerary herbs are applied externally and support the body in the healing of wounds and cuts. Mucilage can be used in gastrointestinal inflammatory processes; associated to topical irritation agents. The mechanism of action is that mucilages cover the mucous membranes and prevent irritation of the nerve endings.
The UK species are all demulcents, used for their soothing effects on the digestion, respiratory and urinary systems. The family as a whole rarely contains toxic constituents. However cotton have been found to reduce male fertility. This is due to the presence of the sesquiterpene gossypol, which prevents spermatogenesis. However, this effect may be irreversible if high doses are taken over a long period of time.
How to make Rose & Marshmallow Root Marshmallows
If you do not have rose hydrosol or rose water then you can substitute them for water (or experiment with different herbal teas such as chamomile, chamomile honey and vanilla or even cacao.
120 ml rose hydrosol/rose water
120 ml water
1 tablespoon marshmallow root powder
1-2 tablespoons of hibiscus flowers (these make the marshmallows pink!)
235 ml honey
1 packet of unflavored gelatin
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
- Bring the water and rose hydrosol to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the marshmallow root and hibiscus flower and stir with a whisk. Simmer for five minutes and then place in the fridge until cool.
- Strain the marshmallow and hibiscus decoction through a fine mesh sieve. Add enough water to equal a full cup.
- Take half of the marshmallow mixture and place in a medium sized bowl and add gelatin to it. Set aside.
- Take the other half of the mixture in a small saucepan along with the honey, vanilla extract and the salt.
- Bring to a simmer. Place the candy thermometer in the mixture until it reaches 2400 (soft ball) then remove from heat.
- Using a hand mixer begin to mix the marshmallow and gelatin mixture on low. Slowly add the hot marshmallow and honey mixture while continuing to mix.
- Once the two mixtures have been combined continue to whip on high for another 5-10 minutes.
- Pour the mixture onto an 8×8 pan lined with natural parchment paper that has been oiled.
- Let these sit for a few hours until they are set up and firm.
- Slice with a knife. These were a little sticky.
- You could roll them in rose petal powder or powdered sugar if you wanted them less sticky.
- Enjoy these marshmallows any way you would enjoy the store-bought variety – they make a great treat for children, especially if they are prone to respiratory tract infections.
If you would like to purchase the marshmallow root and hibiscus please check out my website as I am planning to set up an online shop for dried herbs over the next few weeks: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk