MARSHMALLOW (Althaea officinalis) is an ancient healing herb, more widely known in modern times as the basis for the original marshmallows that we top our Thanksgiving sweet potato pie with (made of powdered root, sugar and water). Its history is very interesting. Its scientific names derive from the Greek for its healing properties. But its common name tells us that this plant was used as a food, as mentioned by early classic writers, and the Egyptians and Romans. It is still relied upon today in poor parts of the Middle East, and in fact is used as a flavoring in halva, a confection made with mallow and honey. French pastry chefs use it to prepare Paet de Guimauve, but today's supermarket marshmallows no longer contain any of the mallow plant. Marsh mallow has a somewhat different appearance than other mallows, but is a charming addition to cottage or herb gardens, and still grows today in the medicinal herb garden of the Royal College of Physicians. The young leaves can be used in salads. Marsh mallow grows 3'-4' (though sometimes up to 7') with pale pink flowers, beloved by bees, in late summer. The whole plant dies back in winter. Perennial. 25 seeds. Limit 2 per customer.
MEDICINAL: All parts of the this plant have medicinal properties and abound with a mild mucilage. The leaves, which are collected as flowering begins, are a diuretic and expectorant, which specific application to kidney stones. You can harvest and eat them fresh (as do the French) in salads. The root, harvested in late autumn, is used for digestive and skin ailments, with specific application to inflammations of the mouth, gastritis, peptic ulcer, enteritis and colitis. It also increases breast milk flow and is soothing to bronchial tubes and useful for coughs. It has been used to treat constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Externally, it is used to treat varicose veins, abscesses, boils and ulcers. I found it interesting in researching this that there are warnings - not about Marshmallow - but about homeopathic preparations offered commercially, because they may have harmful impurities. This is why, if you are going to use herbs for medicinal purposes, it is always best to grow your own, organically, and harvest at the proper time for intended use.
GROWING TIPS: Start indoors on heat mat in sterile soil starting mix at 70-80 degrees. Plant seeds 1/4" deep. Once true leaves emerge, remove from heat mat to grow light. Plant outside in late spring/early summer when weather has stabilized, following a period of hardening off. Can also be directly sown outside in early Spring.