Althaea officinalis | ‘Marsh-mallow’ | 25 seeds
The original source of today’s much-loved marshmallow sweets, the ‘Marsh-mallow’, Althaea officinalis, is a flowering perennial native to parts of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. Beside from the plant’s long history in sweet-making and other culinary schools, officinalis has also been used for many years by practitioners of traditional medicine (notably as relief for irritated mouths, and gastric and throat ulcers) and for its beautiful ornamental qualities.
Althaea officinalis averages around a metre or so tall, but can reach up to two metres in height given the right conditions. Its thick, irregularly-toothed leaves are velvet-textured and grow from roughly fifty to seventy five millimetres long by twenty five millimetres or so wide. Officinalis blooms from August to September, producing lovely white to pink flowers that, while similarly shaped to those of the ‘Common Mallow’ (Malva sylvestris), are generally smaller and paler in colour than that species. The flowers are followed by flat, round fruits known informally as “cheeses”.
As with many mallow species, Althaea officinalis has historically been a popular source of food wherever it occurs. For example, the Egyptians reportedly consumed a “mallow-type” plant, its root extract is a flavouring in the Middle Eastern snack ‘Halva’, the Romans considered it to be an edible vegetable and impoverished Syrians commonly relied on the plant as a subsistence food. Moreover, the flowers and leaves of the ‘Marsh-mallow’ are often eaten boiled, fried or in salads. The flower is also highly attractive to wildlife, including bees and birds.
Occurring naturally between USA Hardiness Zones 3-9, the ‘Marsh-mallow’ makes a great addition to any garden, whether focused on wildflowers in particular or on a more general selection of species. It’s quite easy to cultivate from seed in mildly alkaline to mildly acidic soil (indoors or outdoors), provided it receives adequate regular watering and sun to partial shade. Plants should be spaced approximately fifty centimetres apart to ensure ample room for growth.
All the seed sold by Arkham’s Botanical was freshly and ethically sourced in 2018