The similarity in name between the herb marshmallow and the sweet treat is more than a coincidence, although the modern sugar puff ball no longer bears much relationship to the old-fashioned candy flavored with marshmallow herb.

Besides inspiring makers of campfire food, the marshmallow has also been used medicinally since ancient Greece. Hippocrates spoke of it as a treatment for bruises and blood loss, and subsequent Roman physicians recommended marshmallow for toothaches, insect bites, chilblains, and irritated skin. In medieval Europe, herbalists used marshmallow to soothe toothaches, coughs, sore throats, chapped skin, indigestion, and diarrhea.

Marshmallow contains contains large sugar molecules called mucilage, which are thought to exert a soothing effect on mucous membranes, and this is the basis of most proposed uses of the herb. However, only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove a treatment effective, and no such studies of marshmallow have been reported at this time. (For information on why double-blind studies are so important, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?)

On the basis of its supposed soothing properties, tea or lozenges containing marshmallow tea are often recommended for asthma, cough, colds, and sore throat. Marshmallow taken as tea or in capsules is sometimes recommended for Crohn's disease or ulcers, on the theory that mucilage might sooth the lining of the digestive tract. Finally, marshmallow ointment is sometimes recommended for irritated skin.