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Christine Iverson2 min

The Herbal Apothecary: Arrowroot

ARROWROOT Alternative names: Maranta arundinacea, kudzu, aru-aru, West Indian arrowroot HOW TO IDENTIFY: Arrowroot is a starch traditionally obtained from therhizomes of the tropical Maranta arundinacea plant. This herb can be found in powdered form on most supermarket shelves. HISTORY: The Arawak people of South America first cultivated arrowroot for use as a food starch and medicine as early as 5000 bce. It was so valued for its healing properties that it was nicknamed aru-aru, meaning meal of meals. Indigenous Americans are believed to have introduced arrowroot plants to the Caribbean. European colonists then became the main exporters of the herb in the eighteenth century, the majority of it making its way to Britain in the form of flour.  Arrowroot flour was one of the four main medicinal remedies carried by nineteenth century Antarctic explorers, who used it for its anti-inflammatory properties and also to help relieve diarrhoea. FOLKLORE: According to folklore, this tropical perennial was used by the inhabitants of Central America to heal the wounds of warriors injured by poison arrows. Dust your hands with arrowroot powder to bring good luck in games of chance, or use it to treat gangrene, spider bites and scorpion stings. FOLK MEDICINE: The first known use of arrowroot by European colonists was as a treatment for sores and infections, where slices of the tuber were placed directly on the skin.  This herb was also widely used in cakes, puddings and sauces. Arrowroot was historically used to treat babies with diarrhoea, and biscuits made with the flour soothed sore gums during teething. By the 1920s, arrowroot was being marketed as “invalid food”, because it is a safe ingredient unlikely to upset the stomachs of even the youngest children. One British recipe from Cooking for Invalids – Recipes for the Bedridden by Phyllis Browne, published in the nineteenth century, recommends that “Half a pint of milk, one ounce of arrowroot, one ounce of caster sugar” be prepared as follows: “Mix the arrowroot smoothly with a little cold milk; boil the rest of the milk and stir in the arrowroot; stir and boil well, taking care it does not burn”. Sounds very similar to custard to me. OTHER COMMON USES: The binding properties of arrowroot make it a great substitute for eggs. Just 2 tbsp of arrowroot mixed with 3 tbsp of water can replace one large egg in baking or in omelettes. ARROWROOT AND COCONUT TOOTHPASTE The anti-inflammatory properties of arrowroot can help to soothe sore gums, making it the perfect ingredient in toothpaste. Bicarbonate of soda is a natural whitener; coconut oil binds with any bacteria, which will then be discarded at the end of teeth cleaning; and sea salt can help neutralize acid in the mouth. Makes approx. 80 ml INGREDIENTS ½ tsp fine sea salt 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda 4 tbsp room temperature organic coconut oil 1–2 tsp organic arrowroot powder 3 drops peppermint essential oil METHOD Add the salt and bicarbonate of soda to the coconut oil and mix thoroughly. Start by stirring in 1 tsp of arrowroot powder. Add the rest of the arrowroot powder if your toothpaste doesn’t seem thick enough. Incorporate the peppermint oil until it has been evenly distributed throughout the paste. Pop your toothpaste into a sterilized tin or jar.  This toothpaste will keep for about three weeks. To minimize contamination of your toothpaste, use a small spoon to add the paste to your toothbrush.

Christine Iverson

Extracted from The Herbal Apothecary: Recipes, Remedies and Rituals by Christine Iverson, published by Summersdale Publishers, which you can purchase for £14.99 here.