In the Herb Garden this week no 10 (1.8.20)
Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis)
This slender and elegant plant has come into flower this week and its delicate pink blossoms will catch your eye in the Medicine Chest Garden.
The Marsh Mallow has long been known for its healing properties. The name ‘althaea’ derives from the Greek ‘atho’, meaning to cure. Pliny (23 BC to 79 AD) wrote: ‘Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him’.
The Romans used it as a vegetable and a delicacy and the ‘marshmallow’ sweet has been made from the root of this plant since early Egyptian times – although modern shop bought ones now contain gelatine instead.
The whole plant, particularly the root, contains a mild mucilage (sticky substance) which softens and heals and can be used in many ways medicinally – for sore throats, coughs and chest troubles as well as internally for gastric inflammation. An ointment made from Marsh Mallow soothes chapped skin and chilblains and a poultice helps bruises, sprains and sore skin.
Dr Darwin included Marsh Mallow in his medicine list alongside Liquorice and Coltsfoot (which you will also find in the garden) and we still have part of one of his prescriptions:
Jan 27th. Six powders Rhubarb 15 grs. Ginger 19. Infusion Marshmallow root boild.