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Althaea broussonetiifolia *
Althaea cannabina - Hemp-leaved Marshmallow
Althaea hirsuta - Hairy Marshmallow
Althaea narbonensis *
Althaea officinalis - Marshmallow
- Not accepted as distinct by all authors
Althaea is a genus of 6-12 species of perennial herbs, including the marshmallow plant whence the confection got its name, native to Europe and western Asia. They are found on the banks of rivers and in salt marshes, preferring moist, sandy soils. The stems grow to 1-2 m tall, and flower in mid summer. The leaves are palmately lobed with 3-7 lobes. Althaea species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Bucculatrix quadrigemina.
The genus formerly included a number of additional species now treated in the genus Alcea (Hollyhocks).
The root contains starch (37%), mucilage (11%), pectin (11%), flavonoids, phenolic acids, sucrose, and asparagine.
In herbalism mallow is used as a gargle to treat mouth and throat ulcers. It is also useful for gastric ulcers.
The flowers and young leaves can be eaten. They are often added to salads or boiled and fried. They are also used in cosmetics for the skin.
The root has been used since Egyptian antiquity in a honey-sweetened confection useful in the treatment of sore throat. The later French version of the recipe, called pâte de guimauve, included an eggwhite meringue and was often flavored with rose water. Pâte de guimauve more closely resembles contemporary commercially available marshmallows, which ironically no longer contain any actual marshmallow.
The root’s emulsifying property is used for cleaning Persian carpets in the Middle East. It is regarded as the best method to preserve the vibrancy of vegetable dyes used in coloring the carpet’s wool.