Althaea officinalis. Perennial in zones 3-9.
Common edible and medicinal herb native to Europe. Marshmallow has many medicinal uses which include treating stomach acid, aching muscles, insect bites, and dry coughs. Leaves can be eaten raw but taste better cooked. Similar to its okra relative, it is good for thickening soups. Marshmallows of campfire and s’mores fame were once made by drying the root, grinding it into a powder, and then making the powder into a paste and roasting. Water left over from cooking any part of the plant makes a good egg-white substitute. Tea can be made from the flower or root. Grows to 4′ tall. Naturalizes easily, but seeds benefit from some cold to germinate. One way to get good germination is to direct sow outdoors in early spring.
Sow in pots or direct sow outdoors 10 – 12 weeks before last frost. Germination can be slow and erratic, and may be improved by stratifying. Transplant or thin to 12” in all directions. Roots may be harvested in the fall of the second year. Prefers full sun. 5’ – 6’ tall plants may need support. Perennial to zone 3.
Collect seeds from seed heads that are fully dry. Shell by hand, winnow or screen to clean. Some cross-pollination may occur, isolate from varieties of the same species by 1/4 mile.
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