By Jennifer Poindexter
Did you know marshmallows got their start in the garden? They were once a treat held together with the sap found in, what is now known as, the marshmallow herb. Gelatin has since taken the herb’s place as the glue for marshmallows.
You can still use the marshmallow plant to make healthier marshmallows or use it for homemade remedies to common ailments such as respiratory problems or stomach issues. The sap produced by the marshmallow herb can’t be digested by our bodies. Instead, it’s left behind to coat whatever portion of our body that’s ailing us.
If this has piqued your interest, and you’re ready to grow your own marshmallow herbs, here’s what you should know:
Growing Conditions for Marshmallow
The marshmallow plant is a beautiful herb with white puffy flowers. This plant grows to be three to five feet in height and requires partial to full sun. It should be planted in loamy, well-draining soil. The soil should always remain moist but never soggy.
Marshmallow is a perennial herb that requires little care once established. It does well in planting zones three and up, but marshmallow isn’t recommended for container gardens due to its overwhelming size and need of moisture.
How to Plant Marshmallow
The only difficult part to growing marshmallow is the planting portion. If you live in a planting zone with mild winters, you should have no trouble at all.
Plant the marshmallow seeds directly into the perennial garden bed during early fall. Make sure the soil is nutrient rich, and the bed is located where the plants will get ample sunlight.
If you live in a planting zone with harsh winters, you have three options for planting marshmallow. The first option is to start the seeds indoors. If you do this, you must take the seeds through a process known as cold stratification. This encourages them to germinate.
This process is performed by placing the seeds, still in their packaging, into your refrigerator, or by placing the seeds inside a moistened paper towel and placing the towel inside a plastic bag. Don’t seal the plastic bag completely to allow the seeds ventilation. Allow them to stay in the fridge for one month.
After the month is up, the cold stratification process is finished. From there, remove the seeds from your refrigerator, place them in quality soil indoors, and water them regularly.
When starting seeds, it’s a good idea to moisten the potting soil prior to sowing the seeds in the trays. Place two to three seeds in each portion of the tray. This is a good backup plan incase some of the seeds fail to germinate.
Once the seeds are properly planted, place them in a warm location to encourage germination. This could be on top of your refrigerator, on a grow mat, or even under artificial lighting.
After the seeds are started, wait until all threat of frost has passed. When the coast is clear, the marshmallow herbs can be transplanted outdoors into a perennial garden bed with nutrient dense soil in ample sunlight. The seedlings should be approximately three inches in height or greater upon transplant.
If you don’t like starting seeds indoors, but you don’t live where you can plant them outdoors in fall because of the brutal winters, there’s still another option. Direct sow the marshmallow seeds into their proper garden bed in early spring when the ground has thawed, and the soil has become workable.
Be sure they will get ample sunlight and are planted in quality soil. You can skip the cold stratification process with this option because the seeds will go through it outdoors while in the ground. It’s vital the seeds be planted right as the ground thaws to give them four weeks or more in the cold soil. Otherwise, they may not germinate.
When planting the marshmallow seeds, be sure they’re placed one foot apart. Thin any sprouts as necessary to ensure ample grow space. The plants will need the room once they become full grown.
Also, be careful what you plant around them. If you plant something that needs a great deal of sunlight, the marshmallow plants may shade them too much.
Caring for Marshmallow
Once you get the marshmallow plants in the ground, they don’t require much extra care. Marshmallow is a self-sower. Be sure it’s planted in a large enough area to sustain a vast quantity of marshmallow plants. If not, you may need to transplant the herbs when they become overcrowded in one plot.
You may also run into some marshmallow plants which become extremely large and need to be divided. Whether dividing or transplanting, wait until fall to dig up the marshmallow. The plants become dormant during this season, which reduces the risk of harming them, but you still must be careful with the roots.
If you’re transplanting, you simply place the plant in its new location and cover the roots. Be sure to fill the previous hole with dirt.
When dividing a large marshmallow plant, use a sharp spade to slice down the middle to the root. When done, transplant both plants to a sunny location with nutrient dense soil.
Marshmallow likes soil which is consistently moist. Be sure to water regularly and mulch around the plant to ensure it retains enough moisture.
You should also remove any diseased or dead parts of the marshmallow plant. Deadheading the flowers is beneficial as well. Removing anything sickly or dead could keep the marshmallow plant from attracting pests or diseases to its grow space.
Garden Pests and Diseases for the Marshmallow Plant
The marshmallow plant is durable. It doesn’t have many pests which naturally attract to it. It isn’t common for marshmallow to suffer from many diseases either.
One pest which does attract to the marshmallow plant is the flea beetle. It’s a tiny insect which comes in a variety of colors. They’re difficult to see because they only reach 1/16th of an inch long.
If you happen to catch a glimpse of one, you’ll notice it has large black legs meant for jumping from plant to plant. Flea beetles chew holes in plant leaves. They can also cause the plant to wilt or grow improperly if there’s a large infestation. Plants which have been transplanted into the garden, rather than those direct sown, seem to withstand flea beetle attacks better.
If you have a flea beetle infestation, you can control it with insecticide and basic garden cleanliness. Try to limit weeds, remove any sickly plants, and any rotten produce which may be growing in close proximity to your marshmallow herbs.
The only other issue marshmallow seems to face in the garden is rust. This is a fungus which causes the foliage of a plant to look as though it has rust spots. It’s most common when plants have cloudy days, followed by intense rain or moist conditions, and then endure a heat wave. When plant leaves don’t dry quickly, it leaves room for fungus to grow.
Avoid the spread of rust in your garden by keeping plenty of space between plants and watering at the base of the plant to keep the foliage as dry as possible. You can treat rust by removing any infected parts of plants. Don’t compost these parts as rust can be transmitted to your other plants wherever the compost is used.
A fungicide can also be applied to any plants which are suffering from rust. These few steps should help keep your marshmallow plants healthy and pest free.
How to Harvest Marshmallow
Harvesting marshmallow can become interesting depending upon your use. If you want to use the leaves and flowers of the marshmallow plant, you can within the first year.
Gently pluck the leaves or flowers from the marshmallow plant without causing damage. You can also use scissors to gently snip them from the plant if you’re concerned about harming it.
The leaves and flowers can be used fresh, or they can be dried for later use. Do allow the flowers to bloom before harvesting.
If you’re interested in harvesting the root of the marshmallow plant, you must wait a minimum of two years after its initial planting. Dig up the herb once it has become dormant during the fall. Remove only a portion of the root to avoid killing the plant. Once the harvest is complete, replant the marshmallow to encourage continued growth.
Take the root you harvested indoors to clean it, cut it into manageable pieces, and dry it. Store the root in an airtight container until you’re ready to use it at a later time. Marshmallow root can be eaten or used as an herbal tea to receive its benefits.
It’s a good idea to start taking it in smaller doses and build up to a larger amount to make sure your body responds well to it. Marshmallow could be a valuable addition to your medicinal herb garden. It has been used for generations to heal common ailments, and it’s even the origin of a classic treat.
Consider adding it to your grow space for its beauty, benefits, and as an added natural ingredient for your culinary explorations.