Is marshmallow a plant?

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)

No country herb garden would be complete without marshmallow. It is beneficial for so many ailments from stomach upset, constipation, sore throat, bronchial spasms, and even bruises, cuts, and scrapes. It has a wild, rustic look with its maple-like leaves, and rosey looking flowers, tall and swaying gently in the breezes of summer. Painted lady butterflies are attracted to it. Native pollinators cover its blossoms in summer. You’ll want to find a spot on your homestead for this amazing herb.

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) is a perennial flowering weed of moist, damp places. It’s soft, hairy stock stands 3 to 4 feet high. It has a branched stem. It’s soft, hairy leaves are deeply cut in 3 divisions, similar in shape to a maple leaf. The flowers are born along the upper stalk. They have 5 heart shaped petals, usually white, to bluish pink or mauve. They bloom in late summer. Flowers, leaves, and root are edible.

The root is many branched with none being thicker than a pencil. While the root contains the most mucilage, even the leaves have a high percentage of the it – the sweet, viscous liquid that gives old fashioned marshmallows their light, airy texture. (Learn how to harvest marshmallow root here.)

Use the leaves and flowers as poultices to soothe skin irritations, bruising, and irritation. Make a tea of the leaves and flowers for bronchitis, and cough. The roots contain more than 30% mucilage that is soothing to mucus membranes and the digestive tract. The leaves in early spring, make a mild tasting, and healthful salad.

Growing marshmallow in the garden

Marshmallow is a common flower in cottage gardens due to its beneficial medicinal qualities. Marshmallow is the plainer cousin of Hollyhock, a tall biennial flower in the mallow family. Since marshmallow is a perennial, you’ll want to put plant it where you want it to grow permanently. It grows to 3 or 4 feet tall, if given plenty of water, so plan for its height, to avoid shadowing smaller plants.

Establishing a planting from root divisions or cuttings

Marshmallow grows from root divisions or cuttings. Cuttings root easily in summer, if the ground is kept damp. Divide the root in fall, after the plant dies down, or in the Spring before the succulent growth comes up. Plant marshmallow in your garden, in a damp spot. Plant it in full sun. It is hardy to zone 3 and thrives in cool to cold areas, where other flowers fail.

Stratify the seeds before planting

Marshmallow can also be grown from seed. If you are beginning a new planting of marshmallow from seed, the seeds need to be stratified by exposing them to cold, damp conditions. In mild winter areas you can plant in the fall to get blossoms in the following summer. In harsh winter areas, plant in the early spring, as soon as the ground can be worked. Marshmallow seeds will germinate as the soil warms up. Keep it well weeded and mulched. Water it when you water your garden. If your season is short, expect flowers in the second year.

You can stratify the seeds naturally by planting them in seed trays in the greenhouse in late fall and letting the natural cold and freezing act on the seeds. You can also stratify them by planting them out in the fall, where you want them to grow. Mark the spot so that you don’t accidently weed them out in your spring garden cleanup.

One variety of marshmallow that is specially selected for abundant mucilage is Erfurt Marshmallow (Althea officinalis ‘Erfurter’ ) available from Richter’s Herbs. Erfurter contains up to 10% medicinal mucilage and is the variety grown in Europe for herbal medicine.

If you are buying the seed from a garden store and you want to plant them out in the garden this spring, you’ll need to stratify them in the fridge. Place the seeds in damp sand or peat and put them all together in a zipper sealed bag. Seal it up well and allow the bag to sit undisturbed for 24 hours. This will allow the seeds to swell. Then place the bag in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks. Check the seeds for signs of growth after a month. When you notice germination, remove the seeds from the fridge and plant them in pots in prepared soil.

Keep the soil evenly moist by covering the pots with a plastic dome to keep them from evaporating. Once the plants have grown two sets of true leaves, you can plant them out in their permanent location. Remember to harden them off, if you’ve been growing them in the house, to avoid transplant shock. If you’ve been growing them in an unheated greenhouse, they should be sufficiently acclimatized.

Plant the seedlings 1 foot apart in rows at the back of a perennial bed. Mulch well to discourage weeds and hold in soil moisture. Keep well watered and well weeded the first year to allow them to become established. You can begin harvesting roots in the 2nd fall after a spring planting.

How to harvest marshmallow

The leaves, flowers, and roots are used in herbal medicine. But the harvest window is different, depending on which part of the plant you are using. At any time you can harvest the leaves to use as a poultice. If you are preserving the leaves, or roots for winter, harvest at the optimal time for each plant part.

Harvest the leaves after flowering. Dry them well. Harvest the root in late fall, before the ground freezes. Clean the roots of root fibers and cork. Chop roots into ½ inch pieces and dry immediately.

Marshmallow root contains 25 to 30% mucilage, pectin, and asparagine (like asparagus). The leaves also contain mucilage.

According to David Hoffman in Holistic Herbal:

“The high mucilage content of Marshmallow makes it an excellent demulcent. The root is used primarily for digestive problems, inflammations of the digestive tract and on the skin, whilst the leaf is used for the lungs and urinary system. For bronchitis, respiratory catarrh and irritating coughs consider Marshmallow leaf. It is very soothing in urethritis and urinary gravel. Externally, the root is indicated in varicose veins and ulcers as well as abscesses and boils.” (p. 59)

If you can’t wait for your own Marshmallow to grow, you can buy organic marshmallow root online.

Marshmallow Benefits:

Consider Marshmallow for:

  • Stomach Ache, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Skin problems or acne
  • Colds, sore throat, coughs, bronchitis,
  • Fever
  • Kidney stones, pain, or urinary tract infection
  • Gout or diabetes
  • Arthritis or inflammation

Juliette de Bairacli Levy. The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable. (Faber and Faber: London) 1952.

Philip Fritchey. Practical Herbalism. (Warsaw, IN: Whitman Publications), 2004.

David Hoffman. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal. (Dorset: Element Books), 1996.

David Hoffman. Medical Herbalism, the science and practice of herbal medicine. (Rochester: Healing Arts Press) 2003.

Richters Herb and Vegetable Catalogue, www.richters.com

Have you ever been marshmallow picking? You haven’t? Shocking. It is a rare experience when the marshmallows come out to bloom. They are only ripe for such a short period of time that you may miss them all together. They really only bloom for a day, and then they are gone, so you need to act quick. Marshmallow picking is such a fun and whimsical idea. I wish I could take credit myself. We get to give credit, this time, to my dad.

My dad has a creative mind and the spirit of a child. You need to know my dad to imagine him saying to my kids, “We should go out and pick some boysenberries. They are ready. I think the marshmallows are ready to be picked now too.” I get just as delighted as my kids in moments like this. The kids all journeyed outside to enjoy the picking experience. Corban did have to be convinced a bit because he was playing with cars, but we finally got him outside. We hit the boysenberry bushes first and got quite a crop.

The real excitement came when we arrived at the marshmallow bush with marshmallows stuck at the ends of the sticks of the pruned back bush. The kids got really excited about it. He has all of the grandkids convinced that marshmallows do, indeed, grow on trees. One of my older nieces said, “Grandpa, I don’t think this is true. You buy marshmallows at the store, so I don’t think they grow on trees.” My dad simply replied, “Well, you buy apples at the store? Where do you think apples grow?” End of conversation.

I know some of you have a different opinion about this whole concept, and I totally respect that. There are parents out there that don’t want to do Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny or Marshmallow Trees. They want to make sure their kids can always trust them to tell the truth. They don’t want to compromise that trust by not being honest with their kids in all circumstances. I really do understand that point of view and have considered it for our family. When it comes down to it, I grew up in a family with a dad who obviously had a creative imagination. My parents let us believe in the whimsical creatures of childhood fantasy. I quite liked the experience. I remember the anticipation and vivid imagination I had as I considered the possibilities. I still trusted my parents. I still felt very safe and didn’t question the bigger things in life because they let me enjoy some of the imagination of childhood. I didn’t become bitter because they had lied to me all these years. For me, it was fun. It was part of being a child. It was part of dreaming. I respect those who think differently, but for our family, I think we’ll keep marshmallow picking.

For safety, you might want to make sure your tree or bush is not on the poisonous plant lists:

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Marshmallow Plant Info: Growing A Marshmallow A Plant

Is a marshmallow a plant? In a way, yes. The marshmallow plant is a beautiful flowering plant that actually gives its name to the dessert, not the other way around. Keep reading to learn more about marshmallow plant care and tips for growing marshmallow plants in your garden.

Marshmallow Plant Info

What is a marshmallow plant? Native to Western Europe and North Africa, the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis) has had an important place in human culture for millennia. The root was boiled and eaten as a vegetable by the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. It is mentioned as being eaten in times of famine in the Bible. It has also been used medicinally for just as long. (The name “Althea,” in fact, comes from the Greek “althos,” which

means “healer”).

The root contains a slimy sap that humans aren’t able to digest. When eaten, it passes through the digestive system and leaves behind a soothing coating. Even today the plant is used for a wide variety of medical ailments. It gets its common name, however, from a confection developed in Europe much later.

French chefs discovered that that same sap from the roots could be whipped with sugar and egg whites to create a sweet, moldable treat. And, thus, the ancestor of the modern marshmallow was born. Unfortunately, the marshmallows you buy in the store today are not made from this plant.

Marshmallow Plant Care

If you are growing marshmallow plants at home, you need a relatively wet place to do it. As the name suggests, marshmallows like moist soil.

They grow best in full sun. The plants tend to reach a height of 4 to 5 feet (1.2-1.5 m.) and should not be grown with other sun loving plants, as they will quickly grow up and shade them out.

The plants are very cold hardy, and can survive down to USDA zone 4. Seeds are best sown directly into the ground in late summer or early fall. The seeds can also be planted in the spring, but they will need to be chilled for several weeks first.

Once established, little care is needed, as marshmallow plants are considered fairly low maintenance.

Marsh Mallow Seed – Althaea Officinalis Herb Seeds

Herb Specifications

Season: Perennial

USDA Zones: 3 – 9

Height: 48 inches

Bloom Season: Mid summer to early fall

Bloom Color: White

Environment: Full sun to partial shade

Soil Type: Prefers sandy, moist soil

Planting Directions

Temperature: Max 41F

Average Germ Time: Germination irregular, often several months

Light Required: No

Depth: Sow seeds just below the soil surface

Sowing Rate: 5 – 6 seeds per plant

Moisture: Keep seeds moist until germination

Plant Spacing: 18 – 24 inches

Marsh Mallow (Althaea Officinalis) – Every herb garden needs to have this versatile perennial! It is highly regarded as a beneficial medicinal herb and has been widely used for the last 2000 years in both foods and in medicines. It is native to Europe but can be found growing in many places around the world. It is easy to grow from Marsh Mallow seeds, and it also makes a lovely flowering display as well as having therapeutic benefits.

It is a branching plant that reaches 36 to 48 inches in height. The stems are slightly wooly and the leaves are soft and downy. The flowers reach 2 inches across, have 5 petals and range in color from white to reddish-white. Hummingbirds enjoy their sweet nectar.

Both the roots and the leaves have a slimy substance called mucilage. When the mucilage is mixed with water, it creates a viscous gel that coats and sooths irritated mucous membranes. It is used for coughs, colds, sore throats, stomach and intestinal conditions. It is also very beneficial when applied to skin abrasions or insect bites.

The Marshmallow root is yellow-white and sweet. It is similar in taste to a parsnip. The roots can be harvested in the fall for drying. The history of our modern day sugary marshmallow goes back to this herb plant. The gummy substance, mucilage, was actually the thickening ingredient in a dessert made from egg whites.

How To Grow Marshmallow Plant: Marshmallow herb plants prefer moist soils. Some gardeners recommend a fall planting so that the cold temperatures aid in the germination of the Marshmallow herb seeds. If starting the Marshmallow seeds indoors, place the herb seeds in moistened peat moss, and place the peat moss/seed mixture in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks. After that cold treatment, sow the herb seeds in small pots. Once established, the Marsh Mallow plant is known to self-seed but not in an aggressive way.

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Tell a child that marshmallows grow in the garden, and they’ll be much more excited about weeding chores. The truth is, marshmallows used to grow in the garden, and that’s where the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis) gets its name. The roots of this herb contain mucilage which was originally used to thicken marshmallows, and these days gelatin is used instead.

It’s a shame because those traditional marshmallows were more than just sugar bombs, they were potent herbal medicine for treating all manner of respiratory issues. If a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down, a few herbal marshmallows are even better.

You can still grow your own marshmallow root at home and add it to homemade marshmallows, or you can simply let it add a splash of beauty to your garden. Either way, the bees will thank you, as just like young children, they have a particular fondness for marshmallows…the flower, not the candy.

Marshmallow is an incredibly easy herb to grow, and it’s thrived even under conditions of benign neglect in my garden. I planted it (along with a dozen other herbs) in a flurry of nesting activity right before my daughter was born. Of course with an infant in the house, just about everything else got neglected and few of the seeds grew. The exceptions were marshmallow and valerian, both of which thrived as I ignored them in the seedling trays.

When they were finally thrown into the soil with no preparation they continued to thrive, and 4 years later I have a yard full of both valerian and marshmallow that tend themselves.

The plants themselves are hardy to zone 4, and will readily self sow. That means that once you plant them they’ll come back year after year and continue to expand their patch. They grow in tall elegant flower spikes, each about 4-6 feet tall. Each plant sends up multiple spikes that bloom all along their height.

Growing Marshmallow from Seed

Though my extremely neglected marshmallow seedlings matured to produce thriving perennial plants, they’ll obviously do better with actual care. Don’t skip the cold stratification step, that’s required for germination. This can be done either in the refrigerator or right in the garden if the seeds are planted at the correct time.

Cold Stratifying Marshmallow Seed

Marshmallow seeds require cold stratification for good germination. This means they need cool, moist temperatures to mimic winter conditions. This prevents the seeds from germinating in the fall only to be killed as tiny seedlings over the winter. A bit of cold storage tells the seeds that winter has passed, and it’s time to get to work.

If you’re planning to start marshmallow seeds indoors, the right moist conditions can be achieved either by storing marshmallow seeds on a moist paper towel, or with some moist peat moss, inside a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks before planting. Keep them just barely moist, and leave the bag cracked open a bit for ventilation.

Marshmallow seeds about to go onto moist paper towels for cold stratification.

You can also just place the seed packet directly int the refrigerator, no prep required. I’ve done it both ways, and I’m not sure there was a noticeable difference in germination rates. The first year I grew these, I just threw the seed packet into the door of my refrigerator when my seed order arrived and took it out for seed starting a few weeks later.

Once the seeds have stratified, start them in moist potting mix alongside your other spring seedlings.

Marshmallow seedlings at just a few weeks old.

Direct Seeding Marshmallow Plants

Marshmallow can also be direct seeded into the garden. In areas with a mild winter, just plant the seeds in the late fall and they’ll germinate the following spring. In areas with a long cold winter, you can also just plant the seeds very early in the spring, as soon as the soil can be worked.

Here in Vermont, there are at least 6 weeks of very cool temperatures in the spring before the frost-free growing season begins in early June, and the seeds can cold stratify right in the cool spring soil.

Growing Marshmallow Plants from Root Divisions

Marshmallow can also be grown by dividing an existing healthy plant. It’s best to divide marshmallow when the plant is dormant, such as in the fall after that plant has died down. Early spring, before the greens sprout also works, but it can be more difficult to locate the plants this time of year.

Simply insert a sharp spade into the plant and slice down through the root mass. Take one portion of the roots for planting elsewhere, and backfill the space with fertile soil.

Flowers on a wild mallow plant growing in my yard. They’re not quite as elegant as the cultivated variety, but they’re just as vigorous and care free.

How to Grow Marshmallow Plants

Whether you’ve started them from seed or root divisions, the care is the same.

Plant marshmallow in a moist spot, ideally with heavy soil. It’s called “marsh” mallow for a reason after all. While it wants continuously moist soil, it doesn’t want to grow underwater or in an actual swamp. Ensure good drainage and avoid standing water.

Plant marshmallow plants about 1 foot apart in a well prepared perennial bed. Mulch heavily in the first year to discourage weeds and hold moisture while the plants are getting established.

So long as you keep weeds back this first year, and the soil stays moist, your marshmallow herbs should get off to a good start. Later in life they’re tall vigorous plants, and they can more easily compete with weeds and other perennials provided the soil stays moist.

In my case, I just stuffed them into a weedy perennial bed with no mulch. Our Vermont summers are always wet, so I didn’t have to water. The only thing that is absolutely required is cold stratification, and simply placing the packet into the refrigerator a few weeks before planting accomplishes that. Once they’re up, the plants are pretty hard to kill.

Marshmallow plants are hardy to zone 3, so perfect for northern gardeners.

A native bee on a wild marshmallow plant growing in my blueberry bed. We leave all these wild plants, and they grow without any care.

Harvesting Marshmallow Root

If you plant to use marshmallow root for medicine, you can begin harvesting in the 2nd or 3rd fall after planting. Use a sharp spade to harvest the roots in the late fall, after the plant has died back but before the ground freezes. It’s possible to harvest without killing the plant, so take care to replant the crown after removing a portion of the root.

Clean the roots thoroughly, and then chop into pieces and dry immediately. The dried roots are the most common medicinal preparation, and can readily be purchased online here if you’re not willing to wait 2-3 years for your home harvested marshmallow root.

In season, the leaves and flowers are also edible greens, and they’re an ingredient in this wild green ravioli as well as this herbal summer punch. They also contain mucilage, but it can pleasantly add to a dish or salad in small amounts.

How to Use Marshmallow Herb

I plan to make actual herbal marshmallows using just marshmallow herb and maple syrup later this summer. The book Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate has detailed instructions for using wild or cultivated marshmallow plants to make fluffy marshmallow treats without gelatin.

I’m hoping to just use my own recipe for herbal marshmallows, but substitute a strong marshmallow root infusion for the gelatin/water mixture. Wish me luck?

Marshmallow treats aside, the marshmallow herb is a big part of our winter wellness cabinet and it’s really helpful for both respiratory and digestive issues. The soothing effects make their way all the way down to the urinary tract, and can be helpful for UTIs.

According to WebMD, Marshmallow is used for:

  • Cough, especially dry coughs
  • Mouth and throat irritation
  • Breast pain caused by breastfeeding (as a poultice applied externally)
  • Skin inflammation, dryness, burns, insect bites, and wounds
  • Digestive issues such as ulcers, constipation, and diarrhea

In my house, it comes out tummy aches in my little ones, and it’s my go-to herb for soothing dry coughs.

Medicinal marshmallow, or Althaea officinalis, is both grown as a medicinal herb for its therapeutic properties and as an ornamental plant since its flowers are so cute.

Main Marshmallow facts

Name – Althaea officinalis
Family – Malvaceae (mallow family)
Type – herbs and spices, perennial
Height – 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – rich enough
Flowering – June to September
Harvest – July to September

  • Health: Discover the health benefits and therapeutic value of marshmallow

How to grow marshmallow

Marshmallow requires sun, ideally soft sunlight and moist, rich soil. It can grow in salty soil, too.

Sowing and planting marshmallow

Proceed to sow directly in the plot starting in May-June or at the latest during the month of July.

Trimming the marshmallow

All parts of the plant (roots, leaves and flowers) can be collected to be eaten.

Wait for the summer to gather them.

Tip

Avoid planting your marshmallow near hollyhocks because the rust attacks would do double the damage.

Marshmallow in pots

Growing marshmallow in pots is never really successful, we strongly advise that you spend your efforts for something less ungrateful…

Watch out for small bugs!

Although marshmallow is left alone by most critters, it is however highly vulnerable to rust.

The different varieties of marshmallow

The only known species is the one harvested for medicinal purposes. However, a cousin species deserves to be mentioned: hollyhock (Alcea rosea) is also from the mallow family and is grown as an ornamental plant.

Hollyhock has the same medicinal uses as marshmallow. However, its root doesn’t contain as much mucilage. Refreshing drinks can be colored with the purple flowers of hollyhock and its leaves can be eaten like other cooked greens.

All there is to know about marshmallow

Both a very beautiful ornamental plant and herb used for medicine and cooking, marshmallow is one of the ingredients in the traditional sweets that bear its name.

This is a very melliferous plant.

With high levels of mucilage, it boasts relaxing and moisturizing properties and thus is included in certain medicines like cough syrup.

  • Health: Discover the health benefits and therapeutic value of marshmallow

Smart tip about marshmallow

The flowers are edible and can be added to your mixed salads and desserts!

History And Folklore

Most of the mallows are considered edible and have been used as a food source. The Romans considered a dish of mallow a delicacy. Further, the 16th century Italian physician and botanist, Prosper Alpinus, reported that the Egyptians also ate mallow. Mallow was boiled and fried with onions and butter in the Arabic speaking countries of the middle east and Asia in times of famine or crop failure.

The use of the herb spread from Greece to Arabia and India, where it became an important herb in the Ayurvedic and Unani healing tradition. In Ayurveda, the root was used to reduce vata (dry constitutional type) and increase kapha (wet constitutional type) and was considered to be energetically cold, sweet tasting, and moistening.

According to naturopath John Lust (the nephew of naturopathic pioneer Benedict Lust), “Althea’s particular excellence is in soothing irritated tissues.” He further praises the tea of leaf and flower as an superb gargle, and a cold infusion of the root to soothe the throat. The roots contain a greater amount of mucilage than leaves and thus each lends itself to slightly different preparations and uses. The leaves are diuretic and expectorant, and are used to relieve lung dryness and to soothe the urinary tract. Various herbalists have differing ideas regarding the best use of the root and plant. According to the late Michael Moore, the leaves of the similar plant A. rosea, are best topically as a poultice, and the root, for urethral stimulation. David Hoffman suggests the root to support digestion and for topical applications, and the leaf for supporting the lungs and urinary system. According to herbalists Paul Bergner and Simon Mills, marshmallow stimulates a “vital reflex” which instructs the body to moisten the mucous membranes.

Just as the ancients did, we too can eat all parts of the marshmallow. The seeds, leaves, and flowers can all be put in salad. The leaves are tasty steamed like kale or collard greens, and the root can be boiled and then fried.

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