Mellow Marshmallow

When most of us think of marshmallows, we think of the doughy, puffy cylinders of white “WIN” that grace campfires and Graham crackers. It wouldn’t occur to us that there is a plant of the same name, and that it is loosely tied to that most artificial of all sweet snacks. And even stranger still, it was used as an herbal remedy for sore throats. Not what you think of with that sweet confection, eh?

How the dessert and the plant (Althea officinalis) came to share the same name is sketchy. One sound theory presents that a mucilage concoction from the plant – sweetened with honey – was the great-granddaddy of the dextrose-laden dessert o’ death. Evidence is flimsy on this, however.

I first heard of the plant in the only way a geek can – in a movie. My cousin insisted I give the comedy, Grandma’s Boy, a view. He swore by its campy genius; I merely swore. ¬†Watching it was pure torture on all required senses. Granted, there were some humorous moments, but they were few and torturously far between. Until an odd character came into the fray.

The protagonist’s boss – Mr. Cheezle – was the New Age-y sort, played to near-perfection by Kevin Nealon of Saturday Night Live fame. During the first (or was it second?) encounter with the character, at one point in the conversation, he offered a group some “marshmallow tea”. That furrowed my brow.

I didn’t think on it again until a friend’s lovely Latin-borne wife took a rather well-lit cell phone picture of a tea she brewed.

Two lovely leaves were steeped in a transparent cup, yielding a soft, yellow-green liquor. My palate? Whetted.

On a visit to the couple’s house, she kindly showed me the source of the steep. In her backyard. The marshmallow leaves she used weren’t from a vendor or dried source, they were fresh! All of my infusions up to that point were with dried herbs. I knew one could use a fresh source, but the rules for brewing would differ. She imparted two branches for me to experiment with. What deal with a deity my friend had to make to land her, I know not. But I was happy to reap the benefits – by way of plants, both illegal and/or exotic – by proxy.

The next night, I began playing with the leaves. From what I read, fresh herbs and roots required a full, continuous boil. They couldn’t just steep alone. To decoct them properly, one needed a lengthy cook. The friend’s photo showed two leaves in an 8oz cup. I used about 32oz of water and multiplied the number of leaves accordingly – eight…-ish. (I suck at math.)

My first attempted decoct was for ten minutes. The steam wafting from the cup smelled like cooked asparagus. The infusion colored beautifully to a green-gold liquor that shined in the light via a clear beer mug.  The surprise was the flavor. I found it tasted rather light, buttery, very similar to a chamomile-verbena cross but more vegetal.  The mellowness of it bothered me.

A second attempt at fifteen minutes led to a darker brew, but the taste was about the same – incredibly subtle. To my surprise, though, it took various sweeteners rather well. With a name like “marshmallow”, I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Honey worked best of all.

To conclude, I liked it quite a bit. I’m a sucker for herbal infusions, even those with a medicinal lean. And while I can’t attest to its throat-relieving properties, it does act as a good relaxer. Sometimes after a tough day, that’s all one needs. I hope to explore it in dried form in the future to see how that measures up.

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Saturday, December 11th, 2010 Steep Stories 1 Comment

I work for tea money.


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