In a recent AP article a herb called the Althaea officinalis was purported to be related to the confection candy marshmallow. Does anybody know what this relationship is?
I’ve read that the original marshmallow confections were made from the root of the Marsh Mallow plant, which is Althaea officinalis. They probably didn’t much resemble the gooey, white sweets we have today though.
Oops, forgot my link. Excuse me.
I’ve looked into this.
Marshmallow Root is an interesting herb remedy. If you boil it in water the tea" you prodce contains a lot of glutinous syrup. It’s realy good for sore throats and the like. You can find this info in a lot of herbals, and shredded marshmallow root is available in herb stores and “New Age”-y places, and in “witchcraft” stores, like the ones near m in Salem, MA.
Not surprisingly, they used to use this in sore throat recipes. They’d boil up some root, add some sweetener and maybe some thickener, pour the stuff into a tray, let it set up, cut it into squares, and sell it.
Fast forward to the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Powdered gelatine is patented Peter Cooper in 1845. It’s not a big hit, because refrigeration hasn’t been invented. In 1890 Charles B. Knox starts selling “Knox Unflavored Gelatine”. Now there’s a cheap substitute for the not-easy-to-cultivate marshmallow. Mix gelatine with suga syrup, whip it to a froth, and let it set. Powder the outside with confectioner’s sugar or rice flour. You’ve got a semi-solid confection that goes down smooth and resembles, at least roughly, the natural marshmallow throat remedy. The transition to the “recreational” marshmallo comes when people start eating them for fun, like so many formerly medicinal or supposedly medicinal preparations (such as Coca Cola). God knows when the started tasting the over campfires. Or making S’Mores.
Thank you very much, CalMeacham. I had looked inumerous herb remedy books, including a Germany language herb referance book on herbal meds, considered by many as a very reliable source, but was unable to find a referance to the link between the marshmallow and the candy. I do admit my German is more than 30 years rusty and I had a lot of difficulty reading a medical ref book. Could you let me know where you were to obtain the info. thanks
marshmallow root is also a galactagogue. I can tell you from experience though that it sure as hell doesn’t taste as nice as the candy.
I’ve been cleaning up, and I’m not sure where my notes on this are – I did this mostly from memory. The stuff on Marshmllow root comes mostly from a two-volume herbal published by Dover ooks, but I can’t remember the athor. I leafed through a lot f old cookbooks, candy-makig books, and recipes in the library for some of it. The specific info on Gelatine came from the wonderful The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste by Jane and Michael Stern. The entry is the one on Jello. I’m glad I found this book, because before I read it, I had no idea that gelatine desserts were hopelessly lower-class.
Odd tidbit: The two biggest gelatine manufacturing plants seem to be near me in Massachusetts. I have no idea why. General Foods gelatine plant is off I-93, not far from where it crosses I-95/Mass 128. Kodak still manufactures gelatine at its plant in Peabody, MA. I don’t know where Knox makes its gelatine.
Is it accurate then, to say that marshmallows grow on trees [plants]?
Another Odd Fact: Marshmallows – Real Marshmallow plants – have edible circular things on them that are called “cheeses” (presumably because they are shaped like wheels of cheese). I wonder if we make our “campfire” marshmallows round in imitation?
*Originally posted by CalMeacham *
That would be A Modern Herbal, by Maud Grieve.
The Sterns have written a bunch of interesting books, including The Encylopedia of Pop Culture and Eat Your Way Across the USA.
One of my favorite threads: