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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

21 January, 2017

Marsh Mallow: sugar and spice

What does marsh mallow mean to you? Is is surely a soft, spongy, sticky, sickly piece of confectionery., I remember the dome shaped, chocolate covered ones wrapped in silver paper I used to have in my lunch box back in my school days. You can still buy them but I think they are known as tea cakes these days.
Actually a marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) is a plant of the malvaceae family, the mallows. It has large pale mauve or pink flowers in July and August and the main plant itself can grow to to nearly five feet tall with a strong central stem to bear the weight and support the multiple flowers. The stems and leaves are a velvety grey colour which helps to make the plant quite distinctive, No longer a common plant, it is found in damp places, usually near the sea.
So is there a connection between marsh mallow and marsh mallow; the confection and the plant? I was surprised to learn that a sweet, sugary spice can be obtained from the roots of the plant and that this was the basis for the confection until around 1950 when someone came up with today's alternative. Originally the marsh mallow substance made from the plant was used as a traditional medicine for coughs and sore throats.
Marsh Mallow: sugar and spice