What is it about that white fluffy puffy sticky pillow of sweetness that we call a marshmallow? I have lots of childhood memories, squishing marshmallows between my fingers, seeing how many I could stuff in my mouth, making smores around a campfire at girl scout camp.
Today’s marshmallows are far from a health food, being made with corn syrup. When I learned that there is a PLANT called marshmallow and that the first marshmallows were made from it, and that it can be a medicine for sore throats and coughs, well, to say I was intrigued was an understatement.
In the spring of 2020, realizing I would have months at home without travel, I jumped at the opportunity to have a medicinal herb garden for the first time in my life. Growing marshmallow was definitely on the list. There is a whole family of plants called mallows, including the Rose of Sharon and the Rose Mallow that I already loved and grew for flowers. Marshmallow leaves and roots have properties that loosen mucus, and this same property makes a gelatin like substance that is also sweet and was used to make the first marshmallows.
Marshmallows as a treat date back to as early as 2000 BC and were considered a delicacy deemed worthy only for gods and royalty. During these times, Egyptians made individual marshmallows by hand by extracting sap from a mallow plant and mixing it with nuts and honey.
Marshmallow plants grow to 5 or 6 feet tall, and their best feature is their oh-so-soft leaves which are like velvet to the touch, and soft enough to caress my cheek. And the flowers, while small, are so very delightful. Five white petals, with a lovely purple center of stamens arising from a green tinted center, each lasting just a day like their cousins. The bees are very fond of them too.
When their blooms were abundant last summer, I made a flower essence with them, a process that captures the energetic essence of the flower with sunlight in water. The essence is preserved with a bit of brandy. Flower essences effects are very subtle, and it takes a quiet space to properly sit with them to experience the vibration of the plant, through a process that Asia Suler taught, called an attunement.
Somehow, I never took the time to sit down with this Marshmallow essence until this week. I must have known it would be a special winter treat when flowers are few and far between. As I sat, and put a few drops under my tongue, the marshmallow essence settled directly into my heart area quite distinctly and mixed memories came to me, some were nurturing, like making pies with my mom, and some were quite the opposite, hard things that my ancestors have gone through.
When I asked what Marshmallow wanted me to know, her words came to me as I wrote: “Dear Mary, I want you to know that there is a soft pillow always ready for you, that carries no judgement. I am stronger than you think, and I can hold you and compost and digest all the judgement and anger and fear that you carry. While I hold you, I can pull those no longer needed feelings down through my tall stem and into my sturdy root and the sweetness there will dissolve those feelings into new food for the earthworms. Then you can take my hand and stand beside me knowing we are stronger together. Let some of my velvety softness soothe your body. Let the slippery mucus of my roots slide into your being so that what is no longer needed can easily slide out.”
The last part of the attunement process is to summarize the themes into a short statement for others, to give with the essence as a gift. I wrote as I heard:
“Marshmallow is for someone who has been too hard on themselves and is holding on to bitterness. Let the sweetness and slipperiness of marshmallow loosen those old fears and resentments and let them slide out to be digested by our Mother Earth.”
I know in my heart that this is how our ancestors, and those we call indigenous peoples today, learned how to use the plants as food and medicine. They sat with the plants and explored them and listened to them and asked them what they wanted them to know. Yet, my inner critic is screaming at me that I will be judged as crazy or … (fill in from a long list of shaming words) for sharing this conversation with Marshmallow.
My body sings with this knowing. Our Earth Mother speaks in many voices through each living thing here on this sacred planet. It is up to us to slow down enough to listen and start the conversations again. This is part of our journey back to the garden – no longer letting the main stream culture shame us for listening and being in conversation with the plants and the animals.
Images: 1) Marshmallow in my garden summer of 2020, 2) Marshmallow root