Marshmallow is my new friend


It all started several months ago, when there was a situation in my life I found I could no longer stomach.  As I straddled the fence between being and action, my digestive tract became inflamed.  The feeling of heat began below the sternum and travelled behind my umbilicus, to where the bouquet of my small intestine was in knots.  Though I eat well, I could sense the difficulty my stomach was having digesting my food.  When I placed my hand on my abdomen and listened, I heard its words:  I can’t stomach it anymore, followed by a sensation of gripping and the emotion of fear.

For not the first time, that night I dreamed of the plant that would help me, though it was not one I had ever used for myself.  Next morning I hunted in the herb closet, certain I had kept some particularly vital-looking Marshmallow root from an order for a client of mine who suffered from gastroesophageal reflux.  And there it was:  pale, fluffy shavings whorled like a wren’s nest in a bag dated 2009.  A sweet, root-y scent not dissimilar to slippery elm greeted my nose as I leaned in and inhaled.  I ventured a second, deeper breath and felt…soothed.

Something stirred in my memory:  a cold infusion.  I turned to David Hoffman’s Medical Herbalism, who confirmed that indeed, a cold infusion would bring out the viscous mucilage to best effect.  The last time I had made a cold infusion it was with coltsfoot, and I couldn’t remember much about the experience.  But, as they say, needs must.  Enthusiastic about my experiment, I pulled some bark off of the skein of root, placed the bolus in a jar, poured Italian still mineral water over it, and let the night work its magic while I slept.

decocting marshmallow root
I always use glass containers to steep herbs

I’ve always loved the moment in fairy tales when the heroine is given an impossible task and then told by her magical helper to lay her head and rest, that the task will be done in the morning.  I placed my trust in the night and left Althea to decoct.

steep the roots in cold water

Come morning, I ran into the kitchen and beheld the brew.  The water had turned straw-colored, and the plant matter had darkened in hue.   I sipped as I would a new wine; rolling the liquid in my mouth the mucous membranes of my cheeks and gums seemed suddenly… at ease.  I had not sensed the almost militaristic, tightly attentive posture in which the soft lining of my mouth had hardened, but I most certainly felt the loosening.

When I swallowed, the magic was palpable: Marshmallow had found the source of fire in my gut and placed a cooling hand over every nook and cranny.  Subtly, discernibly, the clenched place began to soften.

There is a phrase in Buddhist meditation called “wise effort”—which means knowing when to apply the many different lenses of attention to a thought, a body sensation, the breath or a state of mind.   The word “wise” springs out of the understanding that it is difficult to have insight into the nature of any phenomenon without calm.   Marshmallow gave me that calm, and no surprise, insight shortly followed.

Two weeks later I was no longer straddling the fence.  I paid attention to the truth of my body:  if I could no longer stomach it, it was time to step through the door and stride out into the open.  And so I have.   Thank you Marshmallow.