Marshmallow Plant: Historic supply of sweet

We have great news for those with a sweet tooth: you can grow marshmallows in your garden! Well, it won't exactly be Candyland, but you can make an old-fashioned kind of candy using your own marshmallow plant. Besides, each flower is as pretty as the confection is cute!

Marshmallow plants are very old. The ancient Egyptians mixed the plant's slimy sap with honey and nuts to make a sweet confection. The roots were often used as a food source in times of famine (they are edible, but not the tastiest). The delicate flowers and fluffy leaves can be used as herbs in tea or cooked in soups and stews.

Growing marshmallow plants is a sticky business. The sweet sugar sap spreads all over the plant and can make pruning pretty messy. However, marshmallow plants are surprisingly easy to care for. They are fairly adaptable to different environments, although they prefer very moist soil. After all, as the name suggests, these mallows come from swamps!

Marshmallow plants aren't just for eating. Their tall, leafy stems and fluttering flower clusters add a whimsical touch to the garden. They're also perfect for filling in waterlogged parts of the garden that most plants can't handle. If you're adventurous in the garden and creative in the kitchen, grow marshmallow plants!

Good products on Amazon for growing marshmallow:

Quick care instructions

The marshmallow plant is moisture-loving and grows quickly. Source: Kaunda

Common name(s) Marshmallow, White Mallow, Bismalva, Guimauve, Wymot, Joseph's Staff
Scientific name Althaea officinalis
days until harvest 6-8 months
Bright full sun
water Consistent, wet
floor Clay, well drained, slightly acidic
fertilizer optional; balanced
pests flea beetle
Diseases leaf rust

All about the marshmallow plant

Marshmallow FlowerA marshmallow flower has five distinct, flared petals. Some varieties have a secondary ring of petals that covers the gaps between the first ring of petals. Source: findantonia

There are many plants sneaking around with the common name "marshmallow," typically within the Malvaceae (mallow) family. In this article we will focus on Althaea officinalis. This species is native to Europe and western Asia. It is closely related to hollyhocks – a resemblance you can see in the stems and flower clusters.

Marshmallow plants grow like a carrot from a taproot. Stiff stems with pointed, lobed leaves emerge from the ground. These serrated leaves grow up to 4 inches long and are covered with soft hairs. The velvety texture makes the leaves somewhat inedible, so they taste best with boiled hair. The entire perennial contains some amount of slime.

Besides the sweets, the best thing about the marshmallow plant is the flowers. Although smaller and less showy than hollyhocks, they grow in similar clumps and shapes. The pink and white flowers have dark centers and bloom singly or in clusters. They make a beautiful, slightly wild addition to any garden.

Pollinated by bees, this flowering plant produces round fruits that are often referred to as "cheese." Inside are small, black seeds that sow themselves. Ideally grown in zones 3-7, growing marshmallow plants are very adaptable. They grow 3-6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Expect an abundance of pink and white blooms from July through September.

As already mentioned, most of this plant is used for culinary purposes. Ironically, the only part not eaten is the fruit. Althaea officinalis is also known as a medicinal plant that relieves pain and swelling. If you plan to grow marshmallow plants for herbal medicine, consult your doctor first. Marshmallow can reportedly interfere with the absorption of medications, lower blood sugar, and potentially increase the risk of hypoglycemia. Althaea officinalis may also not be a good medicinal choice for people with pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes.

Plant marshmallows

Marshmallow seeds need a cold period of several weeks to germinate (so-called cold stratification). Sow them directly into the ground in late summer or early fall and they will emerge in spring. If you haven't planned that far ahead, you can plant the seeds in early spring. However, you need to put the seeds in the fridge for at least a month. You can leave them in the seed packet for this, or place them in a plastic bag with some moistened peat. Transfer the seeds from the refrigerator to the soil after the last frost.

Unfortunately for indoor growers, the marshmallow plant does not grow well in containers. This is only possible if you start the seeds indoors and transplant them a few weeks after germination. This is a plant that needs a lot of space above and below ground.

Marshmallow seeds don't have the most reliable germination, so plant several in each spot. You can always thin out several sprouts later. Sow the seeds shallow, an inch or less deep and a foot apart, lightly covering them with soil. If the soil is moist, the seeds should germinate in a few weeks (about 3-4).

Protect your young seedlings from weed terror by spreading mulch. The mulch also helps with water retention and adds nutrients to the moist soil. After a few weeks, when the marshmallow plants are established enough to repel weeds on their own, you can reduce the mulch.


Marshmallow flower budsMarshmallow buds cluster along the flower stalk. Source: feck_aRt_post

Honestly, planting seeds was the hard part. Marshmallow plants grow so easily that things usually go smoothly from there. However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you really want your cute plants to thrive in the garden.

sun and temperature

Althaea officinalis absolutely needs full sun. It may tolerate many conditions, but shade is not one of them. Because this bushy plant can grow several feet tall, don't place it near other plants in full sun. The marshmallow grows up quickly and blocks the light for them.

This is a hardy plant. Marshmallow survives temperatures down to -13°F. On the other hand, it can handle a maximum of 86°F. To meet these conditions, the marshmallow plant is best grown in zones 3-7.

water and moisture

As the name suggests, marshmallow needs boggy, wet conditions. In nature, it grows near bodies of water, but not in them. So we need to keep the soil very moist but not submerged. Place it in a part of your yard that's always muddy and wet (if you have a small pond, that's perfect!).

Although they love moist soil, marshmallow plants can survive short periods of drought. We don't recommend testing its abilities, but this plant won't easily topple over if the soil dries out.


This is where the versatility of the marshmallow really shines. It grows on clay soil, sand, clay soil – whatever is available. It also tolerates slightly acidic to slightly basic soils. However, if you want to create the perfect conditions for your marshmallow, give it clay soil that is slightly acidic and very fertile (and of course moist!).

This can be a boggy plant, but it still needs good drainage. Marshmallow does not grow in stagnant water like lotus root.


If you've added organic matter as a mulch, you don't actually need to fertilize your marshmallow. If you want, however, you can give it an extra boost when the plant starts flowering. Simply apply a one-time dose of a balanced fertilizer to the soil.


Althaea officinalis is self-seeding. If you don't want it to spread, you'll need to remove spent flower clusters before they can release their seeds. You don't have to worry too much about this since marshmallow, unlike common mallow, is not invasive.

Any time you bring scissors to this plant, be sure to wear gloves. Otherwise you get very sticky! Luckily, the sticky sap is water-soluble, so you can clean your hands and tools with soap and water later. A little rubbing alcohol can deal with very sticky residue on tools.


The marshmallow plant is propagated by seed or division. Because she self-seeds easily, you can just let her go and end up with an abundance of white flowers. However, if you want to have a say in placement, collect the mature seed pods and plant the seeds immediately. They will experience cold stratification over the winter and emerge the following spring.

Marshmallow grows from a taproot, which you must include when dividing the plant. In late summer or fall, when the plant is dormant, use a spade to cut off a piece of the plant down to the roots. Replant the division in its new location and fill in the soil from where you took it.

Harvesting and Storage

Marshmallow flowers are beginning to openOne by one, the flower buds open into pretty five-petalled flowers. Source: quinn.anya

You've been gardening since spring and you're ready to harvest your dessert! You'll find that marshmallow is just as easy to harvest as it is to sow.


Because marshmallow is edible anywhere, there are multiple ways to harvest it. Marshmallow is typically grown for the roots, which are used to thicken the liquified sugar solutions used to make marshmallows. When the plant begins to die back in early fall, use a spade to remove parts of the roots. If you don't harvest the entire marshmallow root, this plant will continue to grow in spring. We know you're craving marshmallows, but wait until the plant is a few years old before harvesting the roots. After all, these gorgeous flowers deserve an encore next summer!

Marshmallow can also be harvested like an herb, usually for tea. Cut off young leaves and flowers for soaking and cooking. These can be harvested throughout the growing season, although you don't want to take too much at once.


After harvesting, wash the marshmallow root and chop into small pieces. Dry each piece immediately. Continue drying the roots in a dehydrator or in the oven. Once all moisture is gone, store the pieces in a sealed container or plastic bag in a cool and dark place. Like most herbs, marshmallow root lasts a few years but degrades in quality over time.

Cook your marshmallow pieces like you would any root vegetable. Alternatively, you can grind them into a powder to make tea or marshmallows. When making traditional marshmallows, the powder is usually used in place of gelatin and mixed with egg whites and sugar. You can also add this powder to soups or stews as a thickening agent.


Althaea officinalis is pretty straightforward when it comes to pests and diseases. We still need to be prepared, though, so here's a quick rundown of the potential dangers to your sweet herb.

growing problems

If your marshmallow plant isn't growing well or seems to have lost vigour, assess its basic needs. Check if this is not the case above or below water. Add organic matter to the soil to increase fertility and water drainage. Make sure the mallow is in a sunny part of the garden. If none of these seem to be the problem, check your marshmallow for pests and diseases.


You won't encounter many pests on your marshmallow plant. The only major exception is flea beetle. These pests aren't actually fleas, but they're just as annoying! Flea beetles are very small and dark in color. Their larvae feed on roots and adults will skeletonize the leaves.

Flea beetles like to hide under debris, so keep the stems and ground clear. Protect young seedlings by using row covers (but remember to remove them for pollination!). Spinosad and pyrethrin sprays are also effective against these pests.


Like hollyhocks, mallows are susceptible to rust. This type of rust is a fungus, not what we deal with on our gardening tools. It spreads by red-orange spores that eventually turn the leaves black. The first symptoms appear on the underside of the leaves, usually as white spots. Over time, the orange spore bodies form.

At the first sign of rust, remove any infected leaves and destroy them outside the garden. Apply a copper fungicide to prevent further spread. Rust thrives with moisture, which is unfortunate for such a water-loving perennial. Try to keep the stems and leaves as dry as possible by watering at ground level.

frequently asked Questions

Flower stalks protrude above the plantMarshmallow flower stalks rise high above the main plant foliage. Source: feck_aRt_post

Q: What is the marshmallow plant used for?

A: This is actually a vegetable that is a good tea and food source. Historically, it was also used in marshmallows. This herb is not only eaten but also used medicinally.

Q: Can you eat marshmallow plants?

A: Absolutely! In fact, the seed pods and seeds are the only part of the plant that is not edible. The roots are boiled and the leaves, stems and flowers are used in tea.

Q: Are marshmallows made from the marshmallow plant?

A: They originally were, but unfortunately modern marshmallows are now made with gelatin. However, you can still make your own real marshmallows using marshmallow plants.

Q: Is the marshmallow plant invasive?

A: Although this herb will self-seed once planted, it is non-invasive. Its relative, the common mallow, is highly invasive, hence the confusion. The only real threat marshmallows pose to other plants is blocking sunlight with their height.

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