Last week, my herbal apprenticeship spent an afternoon digging up and processing fresh marshmallow root. We always manage to have fun, but let me tell you, marshmallow root processing is kinda intense! The roots’ slippery mucilage quickly gums up your blades and makes them quite challenging to work with. It was an all-afternoon effort and a week later, fingers are still sore.
(Note to self: Next time, make a food processor do some of the work!)
Althaea officinalis is both a nutritious, prebiotic food and an immune-boosting medicine. The magic is in the mucilage. The slippery stuff can be a soothing demulcent for a dry, sore throat. It can coat irritated tissues of the respiratory system to to calm a cough or protect the lining of the GI tract to relieve gastric inflammation.
Marshmallow also assists in the elimination of toxins thanks to its ability to increase urine output.
Roots can be harvested anytime, but they’re best taken in the fall or early winter after two years of growth to maximize mucilage content. (Pro tip: After you’ve cut most of the roots off the crown, you can replant it to let it make more marshmallow root for you next year!)
While we were sitting around processing the roots, one of my fellow apprentices brought up the fact that candy marshmallows are named such because the marshmallow plant was actually part of the original marshmallow recipe.
According to madehow.com, the first recorded use of marshmallow as a sweet preparation was in ancient Egypt around 2,000 B.C., where they combined marshmallow root with honey to create a delicacy that was reserved for royalty and gods.
In the early nineteenth century, French confectioners created the predecessor of the modern marshmallow: a sweet merengue called Pâte de Guimauve (paste of marshmallow), which was made from marshmallow root, sugar, egg whites and sometimes gum Arabic.
There are a number of homemade marshmallow recipes out there using egg whites, but I have not tried them yet. This recipe is lightly sweetened with raw honey, à la the ancient Egyptians, and uses powdered gelatin as the thickening/stabilizing agent.
Infusion of marshmallow root
A cold water infusion of marshmallow root makes up the bulk of the recipe. With Richo Cech as a notable exception, most herbalists seem to be in agreement that marshmallow’s mucilage is best extracted by a long, cold infusion. You’ll want to start it the night before you want to make marshmallows.
To make a cold infusion of marshmallow root, simply add 1/3-oz marshmallow root (roughly 3 rounded tablespoons) to about 1-1/2 cup of cool/cold water. Allow the marshmallow root to infuse for 6-8 hours (or overnight), shaking the jar every so often. Strain through a fine mesh strainer or several layers of cheesecloth, squeezing/pressing the root pulp to capture as much gooey mucilage as possible.
Now you’re ready to make some *real* marshmallow root marshmallows!
Marshmallow fluff ribbons ♥
Line a 9″x13″ baking dish with parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the dish. Rub the bottom of the pan with a bit of coconut oil to help the parchment stick in place, then lightly grease the parchment with coconut oil. A reusable silicone baking mat cut to fit the inside of your dish will also work. This will ensure that the marshmallows pop out of the pan easily.
In a large mixing bowl (or even better, the bowl of stand mixer), combine 1 cup of your marshmallow root infusion with 3 tablespoons of powdered gelatin, stirring until the powder is fully saturated.
Set aside to allow the gelatin time to bloom.
You’ll need a good candy thermometer for the next step. I prefer old-fashioned analog thermometers with a frame the prevents the glass from making contact with the bottom of the saucepan like this one.
In a small saucepan (I used a 1 quart) combine the remaining 1/2 cup of marshmallow root infusion with 1 cup of honey, stirring to blend. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer until it reaches 235-240F, also known as the “soft ball” stage in candy making.
Keep a close eye on the saucepan to make sure it doesn’t boil over… it can happen very quickly! *
Once the honey mixture reaches temperature, pour it into the mixing bowl with the bloomed gelatin and add the vanilla extract and pinch of salt.
Using an electric stand (or hand) mixer at medium-high speed, whip until the mixture turns white and doubles in size — maybe 10-15 minutes. The mixture will go from tan to almost white as it reaches trace. You’re looking for defined ribbons in the fluff, but not too stiff or it will become increasingly difficult to pour.
* Ask me how I know this.
Working quickly, use a coconut-oiled spatula to spoon the marshmallow fluff into your prepared pan and smooth out the surface as best you can. Set aside and allow the marshmallow to set and dry at room temperature for a minimum of 4 hours, preferably overnight.
Once your marshmallow fluff has dried, it’s time to cut them into cubes. Prepare a shallow bowl of arrowroot powder for dusting each marshmallow.
As you cut, you’ll quickly notice that your knife tends to get pretty gummed up with each slice. An easy way to manage the goop on your knife is to have a couple of paper towels saturated with a bit of coconut oil handy. Wipe your blade after each cut to keep your knife gum free and oiled so it’s able to slice through the fluff cleanly.
You can also use small *sharp* metal cookie cutters to create fun marshmallow shapes. Same story with cookie cutters: you will find it easier to make clean shapes if you keep the edges of the cookie cutter blade clean and oiled.
Finally, toss each marshmallow in the bowl of arrowroot powder, tapping off any excess before transferring to a storage container. This keeps your beautiful little marshmallows from clumping together. I promise you won’t even notice the powder once it’s had a little time to absorb.
By the way, if you got distracted like I did while running the mixer and over fluffed your marshmallows, don’t fret! All is not lost. They are fixable!
Let your lumpy pan of marshmallows dry as usual, and when it comes time to cut them into cubes/shapes, simply trim off the lumpy side (save the odd bits for your next cup of cocoa).
Voila: picture perfect marshmallows! ♥
This recipe is for “plain” marshmallows, but once you get the basics down, you can jazz them up with your own flavor variations:
- Use peppermint-infused honey or add a bit of peppermint extract for candy cane marshmallows.
- Swap the honey for maple syrup and add some cinnamon for maple-cinnamon marshmallows (YUM!)
- Switch out the vanilla with almond extract and throw in a little cocoa powder for “Mississippi mud pie” marshmallows.
- Exchange part of the marshmallow root infusion for a strong hibiscus or butterfly pea flower to make pink or blue tinted marshmallows (did somebody say homemade Easter Peeps??)
You get the idea. Go wild! You’re only limited by your imagination. ♥