Scientific Name: Malvaceae Althaea officinalis
Common Names: Marshmallow, Althaea, Mortification Root, Althaea and Cheeses
Growth Habit: Central Stalk with a few branches
Height: 4-5 feet
Permaculture Designation: Medicinal, Food, Flowering Beneficial
Marshmallow is a tall herb with a central stalk, and works well as a northern edge backdrop. Does not require marshy conditions as the name suggests, but does need to be well watered. As a perennial, the stalk dies back in the Fall and winter, and comes up from the roots the following season. The flowers appear late in the summer and into the fall, and give way to small round fruits that are commonly called “cheese” for their similarity to small bricks of cheese.
What I’ve got growing in the front has been kind of slow, perhaps because it was started in late spring and transplanted.
Grown from seed, but germination can be erratic. Seeds require some cold stratification. It is recommended to start indoors in the fall, 10-12 weeks before first frost. Can also be dug up and separated, but the deep tap root makes this a chore.
For culinary uses, harvest leaves after plant has reached 2 feet in height, and on at least 2 year old plants. Roots can be harvested in the fall on 2 year and older plants, and are cleaned and dried.
Leaves can be used as a soup thickener, but use sparingly as the mucilage can become strong and unpalatable. The leaves can also be cooked as a green, if you can handle the fuzzy texture. The roots can be boiled as a vegetable, and the water from cooking used as a substitute for egg whites. It’s the root water that was used to make traditional marshmallows.
Used to treat inflammation of the digestive tract and the respiratory system. The mucilage created by the plant helps replace the mucous abraded away by inflammation. The original marshmallow (soft, chewy confection) was a medicinal product made palatable with sugar. (just a spoonful of sugar…)
Can also be used topically to aid in healing of bruises and open sores.
Links to sites consulted:
The best information on growing and uses came from the floralencounters site.