Did you know that the marshmallow plant has been used as a herbal remedy for many different ailments including sore throats, ulcers, and to even stimulate the flow of breast milk. While it used to be in commercial marshmallows, it is ironically no longer an ingredient.
The leaves, flowers and the root of A. officinalis (marshmallow) all have medicinal properties. These are reflected in the name of the genus, which comes from the Greek ἄλθειν (althein), meaning “to heal”. In traditional Chinese medicine, Althaea officinalis is known as . It increases the flow of breast milk and soothes the bronchial tubes.
Marshmallow is traditionally used as a treatment for the irritation of mucous membranes, including use as a gargle for mouth and throat ulcers, and gastric ulcers. A study on rats concluded that an extract from the flowers has potential benefits for hyperlipidemia, gastric ulcers and platelet aggregation. The root has been used since the Middle Ages in the treatment of sore throat.
The root extract (halawa extract) is sometimes used as flavouring in the making of a Middle Eastern snack called halva. The flowers and young leaves can be eaten, and are often added to salads or are boiled and fried.
The later French version of the recipe, called pâte de guimauve (or “guimauve” for short), included an eggwhite meringue and was often flavored with rose water. Pâte de guimauve more closely resembles contemporary commercially available marshmallows, which no longer contain any actual marshmallow.