Marshmallows Were Once Used As Medicine

We love marshmallows in hot chocolate and s'mores, but before they were a campfire treat, these fluffy pillows were used as medicine!

Scientific support of marsh mallow treatments is lacking

Despite its historical use, scientific support of marsh mallow plant treatments is scarce. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate it since it is regarded as a form of alternative medicine.

A 2019 study in the National Library of Medicine concluded that marsh mallow plants “could be a good choice for cough, sore throat, and other respiratory ailments,” when used “in combination with other plant extracts.”

A 2020 study published in the Frontiers in Pharmacology journal found that marsh mallow plants effectively lined sore throats with a "protective film" and soothed irritation, which ultimately helped the respiratory system heal faster.

These limited-edition cauliflower flavored marshmallow bunnies are actually an April Fools' Day prank from Green Giant and PEEPS. (Photo: Handout, Green Giant)

Providence Saint John’s Health Center otolaryngologist and laryngologist, Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh told Bustle in October that marsh mallow root may efficiently ease sore throats.

"Marshmallow root can soothe a sore throat by creating a protective coat on the surface of the mouth and throat," said Mehdizadeh.

Since the remedy is not regulated by the FDA, Healthline encourages individuals to exercise care and consult their doctors before trying marsh-mallow treatments.

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However, there is some truth to the myth. Marshmallows as we know them aren't really the real deal. Marshmallows get their name from the marshmallow root — a plant hailing from Africa, Asia and Europe and a former ingredient to the sticky treat. Cultivators of the root used the plant to, you guessed it, soothe sore throats and stomachs. Over time, the root was removed from the marshmallow treat and replaced with gelatin.

On the other hand, Dr. Steven Ehrlich, a naturopathic medical doctor at Solutions Acupuncture & Naturopathic Medicine, told the Daily News, "Marshmallow works, but not the marshmallow you put in your hot cocoa!"

Interesting facts about marshmallows

Marshmallow is a light, spongy, very sweet confection.

It is typically made from sugar, water and gelatin whipped to a squishy consistency, molded into small cylindrical pieces, and coated with corn starch.

Marshmallows owe their namesake to a the marsh-mallow plant (Althaea officinalis). It is called the marsh-mallow plant because it grows in marshes!

The marsh-mallow is a perennial flowering herb. It has strongly veined heart-shaped or oval leaves. The white-pinkish flowers, borne on stalks about 1.8 metres (6 feet) tall, are about 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter. The herb is native to parts of Europe, North Africa, and Asia.

It is not known exactly when marshmallows were invented, but their history goes back as early as 2000 BC.

Ancient Egyptians were said to be the first to make them, and eating them was a privilege strictly reserved for gods and for royalty, who used the root of the plant to soothe coughs and sore throats, and to heal wounds. The first marshmallows were prepared by boiling pieces of root pulp with honey until thick. Once thickened, the mixture was strained, cooled, and then used as intended.

Whether used as a candy or for medicinal purposes, the manufacturing process of marsh mallows was limited to a small, almost individual, scale. Access to marsh mallow confections was limited to the wealthy until the mid-nineteenth century. Common people only tasted marsh mallows when they took pills doctors sometimes hid the medicine inside the candy to cover the pill’s undesirable taste.

Modern marshmallow confections were first made in France around 1850. This first method of manufacture was expensive and slow because it involved the casting and molding of each marshmallow. French candy makers used the mallow root sap as a binding agent for the egg whites, corn syrup, and water. The fluffy mixture was heated and poured onto the corn starch in small molds, forming the marshmallows. At this time, marshmallows were still not mass manufactured. Instead, they were made by confectioners in small stores or candy companies.

In the late 1800s, candy makers started looking for a new process, and discovered the starch mogul system, in which trays of modified corn starch had a mold firmly pushed down in them to create cavities within the starch. The cavities were then filled with the whipped marshmallow sap mixture, and allowed to cool or harden. At the same time, candy makers began to replace the mallow root with gelatin which created a stable form of marshmallow.

By the early 1900s, thanks to the starch mogul system, marshmallows were introduced to the United States and available for mass consumption. They were sold in tins as penny candy, and were soon used in a variety of food recipes like banana fluff, lime mallow sponge, and tutti frutti.

In 1955, there were nearly 35 manufacturers of marshmallows in the United States. About this time, Alex Doumak, of Doumak, Inc., patented a new manufacturing method called the extrusion process. This invention changed the history of marshmallow production and is still used today. It now only takes 60 minutes to produce a marshmallow. Today, there are only three manufacturers of marshmallows in the United States, Favorite Brands International (Kraft marshmallows), Doumak, Inc., and Kidd & Company.

Today, Americans are the main consumers of marshmallows. According to the National Confectioners Association, Americans buy 90 million pounds of marshmallows each year

Marshmallow is considered a year-round snack even though the majority is sold during October and December.

Over 50% of marshmallows sold during the summer months are toasted over a fire.

S’mores are a traditional campfire treat in the United States, made by placing a toasted marshmallow on a slab of chocolate, which is placed between two graham crackers. These can then be squeezed together, causing the chocolate to begin melting.

S’more is a contraction of the phrase “some more”. One early published recipe for a s’more is found in a book of recipes published by the Campfire Marshmallows company in the 1920s, where it was called a “Graham Cracker Sandwich”.

The most marshmallows eaten in 1 minute is 25, achieved by Anthony Falzon (Malta) in Sliema, Malta, on 25 March 2013.

The most marshmallows caught in the mouth with a home-made catapult in one minute is 47, and was achieved by Ashrita Furman (USA) and Homagni Baptista (Australia) in Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan, on 18 September 2018.

The largest s’more weighs 121.11 kg (267 lbs) and was made at the Deer Run Camping Resort (USA), in Gardners, Pennsylvania, USA, on 31 May 2014.

National Toasted Marshmallow Day is celebrated on August 30.

Althaiophobia is the fear of marshmallows, mostly caused by the gooey texture.

Botanically Speaking

Marshmallow is in the Malvaceae family. This is derived from the Greek word malake, which means soft. Almost all members of this family are used in similar ways to marshmallow herb. 

Members of the Malvacaeae family that you might be familiar with include: 

    (Hibiscus militaris)
  • Hollyhock (Althea rosea)
  • Common Mallow (Malva neglecta)
  • Globemallow (Sphaeralcea acerifolia)
  • Cotton (Gossypium herbaceum)

Malva neglecta, or common mallow, can be used very similarly to marshmallow and it grows virtually all over the US. 

Marshmallow herb originally comes to us from central Asia but has spread out from there. It natively grows in salt marshes and is an easy herb to grow in your garden.

Marshmallow grows to 3-5 feet in height. It’s a perennial herbaceous plant, meaning that it dies back in the fall and reappears in the spring. 

Marshmallow flowers are pinkish to white and have five separate petals and many stamens. The stamens form a column around the pistil, giving it a distinct shape. 

The leaves are shaped like hearts with irregular serrations andਊre covered with small soft hairs on both sides.

Marshmallow roots are a pale yellow color and are tapered, long, and thick. 

The leaves and flowers can be harvested in the late summer to early fall. You can usually get two clippings from the plant. After cutting the aerial portions I tie it up in bunches and hang them from the rafters to dry. Once dry, I separate the leaves and flowers from the woody stalk. 

Marshmallow roots are harvested in the fall from second or third year plants. They are chopped while still fresh and then dried. 

Marshmallows Were Once Used As Medicine - HISTORY

Today I found out marshmallows were once made from the sap of marshmallow plants.

Whether they are a hot chocolate topping treat, in the form of a sugar-coated critter, or roasting over a campfire, marshmallows are a favorite treat for many people. Marshmallows date back to as early as 2000 BC and were considered a delicacy deemed worthy only for gods and royalty. During those times, Egyptians made individual marshmallows by hand by extracting sap from a mallow plant and mixing it with nuts and honey.

This delicious sweet developed a new form when, in the 1800s, candy makers in France took the sap from marshmallow plants and combined it with egg whites and sugar. The mixture was whipped by hand and took the form of the marshmallow we all know today. Since they were no longer reserved for people of high status, the demand for marshmallows among the public required candy makers to speed up the production process, so they developed a system known as the starch mogul system. The starch mogul system used corn starch molds to form the marshmallows.

Additional changes to the recipe were also made. Candy makers replaced the sap taken from the marshmallow plant with gelatin, which enabled the marshmallow mixture to maintain its form and reduced the labor intensive process of extracting the sap from the mallow plant. The gelatin was combined with corn syrup, starch, sugar, gelatin, and water to create the fluffy texture of the marshmallow. The gelatin ingredient is essential in extending the shelf life of marshmallows because of the moisture it infuses into the candy. Thus, by replacing the previous egg whites with gelatin, marshmallows maintain their beloved elastic and spongy qualities much longer than they had previously.

However, even with the advances in production and ingredients, the starch mogul system still wasn’t the most quick or efficient method to meet the demand of marshmallow consumers. In 1948, Alex Doumak took a huge step forward in technology by creating an extrusion process to make marshmallows. Through this process, the marshmallow substance was pressed through tubes, cut into equal pieces, cooled, and then packaged. No longer were they made by hand. The extrusion process revolutionized the production of marshmallows and allowed the candy to become an everyday treat to the general public.

The marshmallow made its way to the United States in the 1900s and grew in popularity in the 1950s when it was used in a variety of recipes. Even though Americans were a little behind when it came to the marshmallow, they are now the number one consumers of the fluffy candy, buying more than 90 million pounds per year, which is more or less equivalent to the weight of almost 1,300 adult gray whales.


Marshmallow root has traditionally been recognized as a source of mucilage, which has been used for more than 2 millennia to treat topical wounds and as a remedy for sore throats, cough, and stomach ailments. The first recorded therapeutic use of marshmallow was in the ninth century BC.2 The mucilage is incorporated into ointments to soothe chapped skin and is added to foods in small quantities (approximately 20 ppm) to provide bulk and texture.3 One report discusses althea-type plants at a Neanderthal gravesite in Iraq.4 Marshmallow has also been used ritualistically to treat impotence seeds are harvested under a full moon and made into an oil that is applied to the genitalia.1

The Long, Sweet History of Marshmallows

Springy, sweet, and puffed full of air, marshmallows as we know them are a pretty unnatural (albeit delicious) treat. It turns out, though, that the campfire-friendly confections originated thousands of years ago with the most basic of ingredients.

Start with the fact that the marshmallow is actually a plant. Found mostly in Europe and western Asia, Althaea officinalis grows as high as six feet tall and sprouts light pink flowers. A member of the mallow family, it grows mainly in wet or marshy areas—and thus, "marsh" meets "mallow."

Beginning around 9th century BCE, the Greeks used marshmallows to heal wounds and soothe sore throats. A balm made from the plant’s sap was often applied to toothaches and bee stings. The plant’s medicinal uses grew more varied in the centuries that followed: Arab physicians made a poultice from ground-up marshmallow leaves and used it as an anti-inflammatory. The Romans found that marshmallows worked well as a laxative, while numerous other civilizations found it had the opposite effect on one’s libido. By the Middle Ages, marshmallows served as a treatment for everything from upset stomachs to chest colds and insomnia.

The Ancient Egyptians were the first ones to make a sweet treat from the plant, when they combined marshmallow sap with nuts and honey. The dish bore no resemblance to today’s marshmallows, and was reserved for the nobility. The gods were supposedly big fans, as well.

For centuries afterwards, the plant served as a food source only in times of famine. In contrast to the marshmallow candy, the marshmallow plant is tough and very bitter. In 19th century France, confectioners married the plant’s medicinal side with the indulgent qualities revealed by the Egyptians. Pâté de guimauve was a spongy-soft dessert made from whipping dried marshmallow roots with sugar, water, and egg whites. Sold as a healthful treat in lozenge and bar form, the guimauve, as it was known, quickly became a hit. There was just one problem: Drying and preparing the marshmallow stretched production to a day or two. To cut down the time, confectioners substituted gelatin for the plant extract.

With production streamlined, marshmallows made their way to the U.S. in the late 1800s. Soon after arriving, the recipe was tweaked to make marshmallow crème (which, in keeping with the marshmallow's health food origins, was once advertised as a wrinkle cream). In 1927, the Girl Scouts Handbook came out with a recipe for "Some More." It instructed readers to "toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crisp gooey state and then put them inside a graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich." The name was soon shortened, and s'mores have been an American campfire tradition ever since.

The next leap for marshmallows came in the 1950s, when manufacturer Alex Doumak developed a process called extrusion that forced marshmallow mixture through metal tubes, shaping it into long ropes that were then cut to uniform size. The process gave marshmallows their cylindrical shape and it pumped even more air into them, giving them the soft-but-firm quality that we associate with the treat today. Kraft’s "Jet Puffed" tagline rebranded this process, which subjects the marshmallow mixture to gas blasts at 200 pounds per square inch.

Thanks to the wonders of industrial processing, Americans today consume more than 90 million pounds of marshmallows every year. Companies now make all-natural marshmallows using vegan gelatin and alternative sweeteners. You can also make your own marshmallows with some corn syrup, granulated sugar, gelatin, and a few other ingredients.

If you’ve got time and the right equipment, you can even make marshmallows the really old-fashioned way, using marshmallow root. Step one: "Make sure the marshmallow roots aren't moldy or too woody." Good luck with that!

Blue’s Food History: All About Marshmallows

Did you know that there is a plant called marsh mallow? The botanical name for this plant is althea officinalis, and it is related to the hibiscus flower. The roots of this plant are best known for their soothing effect. They have been used in herbal medicines for sore throats and tummies, but the plant is also used for food.

The candy we know today as marshmallow was once made from the marsh mallow root and a base of egg whites whipped up into a meringue. In the 1800s in France, this concoction was called “pâte de guimauve.” Before the advent of electricity and stand mixers, people had to beat the meringue by hand. If you’ve ever had to do that, you know it takes a lot of elbow grease! So a marshmallow was a very special treat. Marshmallows were used as both candy and medicine.

Today, most marshmallows are made with gelatin instead of egg whites. There are homemade marshmallow recipes that start with gelatin, but the same ingredient is used to make artisanal marshmallows (more luxurious but also more expensive) and mass-produced marshmallows (very inexpensive.) Most marshmallow candies no longer contain the marsh mallow root, just like most licorice candies have no licorice root and most ginger ale has no ginger.

Did you know:

Mass production of marshmallows started in the early 20th century and was improved in 1948. Both at the turn of the century and at mid-century, food manufacturers carried out advertising campaigns to entice the homemaker to buy and use their product.

In 1917, Janet McKenzie Hill (noted culinary reformer and co-founder of the Boston Cooking School Magazine) was commissioned to write a book of recipes that would use marshmallows. She is responsible for introducing us to hot chocolate with marshmallows and also to sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows.

In 1956, the makers of Marshmallow Fluff collaborated with the Nestle company to promote a recipe for foolproof fudge. It was a faster, no-fail method for making the chocolate fudge that had become popular in the Boston area in the late 1800s. The recipe relied on marshmallow fluff to make a rapid fudge that needed less cooking than the traditional recipe. This recipe is still popular in North America today!