Experiments with herbal marshmallows: Home medicine cycle 26

I have been intrigued with the idea of making natural marshmallows ever since I discovered that the campfire candy of my childhood shares its name with an herb. As it turns out, marshmallows were originally made from powdered marshmallow root. It's high concentration of mucilaginous compounds makes it a good addition to a jelly-like treat. 

But I was initially skeptical about how much work this would involve and how appetizing the results would be. Furthermore, I am focused on homecrafting herbs. The goal in homecrafting is to grow or gather wild most of what you need and buy as few supplies as possible. This isn't just an exercise in self-sufficiency. When it comes to herbs the more local and the fresher they can be when you use them, the better. And you can't get more local than your backyard and your ability to process herbs gently and carefully will always be superior to even the most conscientious factory operation.

As a result, I was reticent to seek out and order powdered marshmallow root and making it myself would be so time-consuming that it was unlikely to become a top priority in my busy life. The other principle of my style of homecrafting is that it must be realistically achievable by busy people who live in the modern world. So, it took awhile before I cobbled together a marshmallow recipe that doesn't require powdered roots. 

Marshmallow root - Creative Commons image by Victor M. Vicente Selvas

Marshmallow root - Creative Commons image by Victor M. Vicente Selvas

Here's what I did.

  • I dug up fresh marshmallow roots, cutting off the long deep tap roots and leaving the crowns of the plant to grow.
  • Then I chopped them into small pieces (a quarter of an inch thick) and soaked them in a cup of cold water over night (I'm told all you really need is five minutes but overnight worked for me this time).
  • In the morning, I strained out the liquid (a marshmallow cold infusion) and put half of it in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of natural gelatin. 
  • I put the remaining half cup of liquid into a small pan with a cup of honey and three tablespoons of bitter cocoa powder (because I wanted chocolate flavored marshmallows). 
  • I was supposed to heat the honey mixture to a boil and let it simmer for 8 minutes (at which point it was supposed to reach 240 degrees Fahrenheit). I heated it to a boil and used a candy thermometer to test the temperature. This is where my experiment started to get interesting. The mixture was at 220 degrees Fahrenheit and refused to get any hotter. I boiled it for 20 minutes (instead of 8), stirring all the while, and it never got over 221 degrees Fahrenheit. So, I finally gave up on that part of it.
  • I then poured the hot honey mixture over the (now hardened) gelatin mixture in the bowl and beat the resulting mixture with a kitchen mixer. (This is the point at which I would have added any other flavorings beyond cocoa powder if I had wanted them. You can do this with mint extract or lemon juice or vanilla as well, but i prefer chocolate). 
  • Again, my experiment was not going entirely according to plan. I was supposed to beat the mixture for 15 minutes until soft peaks formed. I beat it for 30 minutes and it was smooth and thick but still liquid. I am an intrepid explorer though, so I pressed on. 
  • I now spread wax paper in a baking dish and poured the hot marshmallow mixture into it. I spread it out and let it sit for a few hours. 

The result was a slap of chocolate marshmallow candy, sweetened only with honey. I cut (with a greased knife!) it into small squares and took it to a party with friends, who gobbled it down.  Due to my difficulties with temperatures and forming peaks, my marshmallows were not very fluffy, but they were very edible. And this is a good lesson as well. Be careful with your ingredients and safety and the result will generally be good, even if it isn't exactly what you intended. 

I will continue with my experiments in hopes of producing a fluffy marshmallow. (I may have used too much cocoa powder but that did make them taste fantastic.) However, I can already recommend this recipe because it is healthy and delicious. Gelatin is very good for the joints of adults and the bone growth of children and we usually don't get to eat enough gelatin that isn't packed with artificial colors and chemical flavors.

These marshmallow candies melt in hot chocolate and if you use a greased ice cube tray as a form, they work on a stick over a campfire as well. You can in fact use any number of interesting forms to make shaped candies this way and use fruit juice instead of water to make different colors and flavors. 

I love to hear from you! Drop me a line in the comments below. Have you done any fun kitchen experiments where you got something you didn't expect but it was still useful or at least a good lesson? Share here and let me know if you know any tricks for getting marshmallows to fluff.