Seed Count: Approx. 20 seeds
Days to Maturity: Perennial
Description: Marshmallow is a perennial shrub, in the Malvaceae (okra, cotton etc.) family, that's not just an elegant ornamental. In fact, it has medicinal and culinary uses as well! This plant has been responsible for making delectable marshmallows, since like the beginning of time. I don't know about you but there honestly aren't too many sweet treats that I enjoy more than Marshmallows. This shrub boasts delicate, 1-2 inch, hibiscus/hollyhock shaped, white to pale pink flowers that pop out against a backdrop of large, dark green, toothed, velvety leaves all summer long. Plants grow to about 4 ft. tall, and the flowers, leaves, and roots of this plant can be used. The flowers and roots can be used for tea. The leaves can be eaten like vegetables, just cook them like you would spinach. Traditionally, the roots were dried, ground, then made into a paste, and roasted to make marshmallows. The water, left over from cooking any part of this plant, even makes for a good egg white substitute! They naturalize easily, but may need to be cold stratified to germinate. Marshmallow grows best in zones 3-9, and is commonly seen growing in damp marshy areas. Great to add to a pollinator garden.
How To Grow
Sowing: Marshmallows like good draining, marshy moist soils to grow in, and require cold stratification to germinate. If you are like me, and live in a warm area, you need to cold stratify your seeds by sticking your seeds in the fridge for 2-3 months before sowing in the spring. Also, you will get better germination by scarify the seeds first (scratch the surface of the seed with medium grit sand paper). In order to artificially cold stratify, place your seeds in a slightly dampened paper towel inside a ziplock. Make sure to label and date it so you don't forget when you put it in. Then place it in the fridge, not the freezer, for 2-3 months before it is time to plant. When starting indoors, make sure to keep seeds moist at all times once you sow them, and only lightly cover them with soil since they require light. Transplant into larger containers, once your seedlings start taking off, so they have room to grow. Marshy areas are slightly acidic, so it may be best to include some peat moss in your planting mix, in order to mimic its natural environment. If you live in a colder zone, you can direct sow your seeds outside in the late fall. However, doing this method, means that they will not flower the first year, but will the following year. Seeds take 3-4 weeks to germinate once they have gone through their cold stratification process.
Growing: Once your last frost has passed, you can transplant your seedlings outside, making sure to harden them off first. Space plants at least 12 inches apart from each other, and give them a good mulching so they can retain moisture. These babies get pretty tall (4-5 ft. tall), so make sure you don't plant them where they'll block plants that enjoy a lot of sun. It will however, make a pretty good windbreak, since they are such sturdy plants. Keep plants evenly moist, to mimic their preferred environment.
Harvesting: Marshmallow flowers and leaves can be harvested pretty much at any time. You can eat your flowers in salads, or make tea with them. The greens can be eaten raw or cooked, as well. The roots are usually harvested with a sharp knife, in the fall before the soil freezes over, after growing for 2-3 years. Clean your roots well, and cut and dry them immediately for later use.