What Popular Candy Was Once Used as Medicine?
Today it is best known as a gooey, sugary treat, but the marshmallow has a long history, both as a versatile (and medicinal) plant and the candy whose original ingredients came from it.
Marshmallow candy gets its name from the marshmallow plant (Athaea officinalis), which is native to Africa. Ancient Egyptian royalty were the first known people to consume a confection made of marshmallow root, which has a thick, gluey quality when it’s powdered and mixed with water or boiled.
In the early to mid-1800s, French confectioners extracted marshmallow root sap, cooked it with egg whites and sugar, and whipped the concoction into a meringue. People enjoyed the hardened meringue as a candy and also used it to soothe sore throats.
In the late 1800s, gelatin replaced marshmallow sap in the candies. Even though today’s marshmallow candies contain no marshmallow plant ingredients, the plant is still used around the world as a medicinal remedy — for example, to soothe irritated mucous membranes, such as mouth, throat, and gastric ulcers.