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What are Marshmallows?

As a kid, I always imagined the marshmallow to be some kind of plant.  I remember being surprised to learn that that stuff in the rocky road ice cream, that I just dropped in my hot chocolate, that I’m roasting over the fire, was not actually from a plant.  Later on I was surprised again to learn that the marshmallow is indeed a plant, no matter what it is that we eat as a confection.
Althaea officinales, aka the marshmallow plant
The marshmallow is a nice looking green plant with white flowers, indigenous to the Mediterranean region.  The first people to use it for anything were the ancient Egyptians, who found it to make nice decorations, and who also mashed up its flowers, roots and leaves for herbal medicine.  It was used to deal with irritated mucous membranes and different kinds of ulcers.  There was also a kind of ancient confection that they Egyptians developed, made from the roots of the plants, that evolved into the common Middle Eastern confection called halva, as well as wha…