Plants in Medicine – Marsh Mellow Althea Officinalis

Apr 5, 2017


By Jo McKenzie, Colostomy Association

From time-to-time you will see people recommending the eating of marshmallows as a way to thicken your output and help with diarrhoea. Of course, everyone is different, but many ostomates find eating this sugar-based confection beneficial.

Marshmallows are plants which, since 2000 B.C., have been used as both a food and a medicine. Marshmallow is still used for various gastrointestinal/ genitourinary system and respiratory system conditions. It is also used externally as a relief for skin irritations, aches and pains.

The marshmallow plant’s scientific name is Althaea officinalis. It is a stemmed perennial herb, which grows up to 4ft and has flowers with delicate pink and white petals. Originally marshmallows grew in salty soils, but they now thrive in marshes and swamps. Althaea comes from the Greek word ‘althos’, meaning ‘to cure’.

Although first used in Asia and North Africa, the marshmallow, with its delightful flavours and deliciously gooey texture, soon found willing consumers in Europe. In the early nineteenth century, the French came up with the idea of making sweets from the plant. Through a process of trial and error, shop keepers discovered that by heating and whipping the plant’s sap with egg whites and a little corn syrup, they could create a substance that moulded easily.

By the start of the twentieth century the mass production of marshmallow sweets had begun. These were sold in little tins as a sweet treat. This was made possible by the invention of the ‘starch mogul system’ which was a machine that sped up the production process. Shortly afterwards, mallow root sap was replaced with gelatine and starch as the main ingredient leading to the marshmallow sweets that we know and love today!

For more information on Nutritional guidelines for people who have a colostomy please see our Healthy Eating Booklet 


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