This time of year the Peeps jokes start circulating, and it hit me, hey, I write about health and wellness, so perhaps I would write about marshmallows.
The marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) is an herb, a perennial herb of the hibiscus family, native to Europe and northern Africa. And you’ll probably guess where it is found: in marshes, mainly near the sea.
Those familiar with the geography of northern Africa will surely know that Egypt sits there. And it was over 2000 years ago that ancient Egyptians mixed the sap of the marsh mallow plant with honey to treat sore throats, thus giving birth to the confectionary we know today as the marshmallow.
This wasn’t the last time medicinals and sweets have been mixed together for our pleasure. Allow me to take you on a quick timetravel from Ancient Egypt to 19th century Atlanta where we find a druggist by the name of John S Pemberton, who in 1886 [Ref] whipped up a refreshing drink using the coca leaf and kola nut. It was sold it as a tonic for a slew of ailments. Today we know it as Coca-Cola, and we also know it originally contained cocaine, which was effective against all sorts of aches and pains.
Even 7Up had a medicinal beginning, containing lithium citrate, which was touted to ward off depression, and advertised to cure a hangover. [Ref] It had been formulated in 1929 (the Great Depression would be the cause of much depression) and was originally called “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.”
Over the years, however, lithium citrate came under close scrutiny because of its toxicity, and was removed from 7Up in 1948, though just a couple of years later, it became standard treatment for bipolar disorder.
The marshmallow root after thousands of years, is still sold as an herbal remedy due to the mucilage it contains (relieves irritation of mucous membranes). At Healthline, we find it treating coughs and colds, skin irritation, wounds (speeds up healing and reduces inflammation), and sore throats (as it was used in ancient Egypt). It has also been used as a diuretic, and a digestion aid, since it can help repair lining in the gut (mucus membranes). And because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it supports heart health. It even has antioxidant properties.
But today, you won’t find any marsh mallow root sap in your marshmallows. Just a lot of sugar . . . and food coloring if you’re knocking back Peeps.
Oh, and it was the French who took up making modern marshmallows, but removed the marsh mallow sap from them because, according to Uncle John’s Old Faithful Bathroom Reader, it was a very tiresome and tedious process. Instead they substituted gelatin and cornstarch.
If you’re ever in the Middle East, you’ll find that very favorite Jewish treat, halva, still contains a bit of the herbal marsh mallow.
The French marshmallow treat, however, was rather expensive up until the mid fifties, when Alex Doumakes patented a machine that extruded a long, cylindrical tube of marshmallow onto a conveyor belt. and then cut them up into individual pieces, bringing down the price, and putting bags and bags of these treats on the shelves just in time to toast them over an open fire. Half of all marshmallows are eaten that way, and many are made into smores.
Each year, Americans buy some 90 million pounds of marshmallows, and I’ll bet most of that are sold around this time of year as Peeps.
If you google “Peeps” you’ll find that 700 million are bought each year.
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