Marsh mallow is indeed the original source for the confection of the same name. Marshmallow candy dates back to ancient Egypt where it was a honey based candy flavored and thickened with the powdered root of the marsh mallow plant (althea officinalis).
Marsh mallow grows in salt marshes and on banks near large bodies of water. It was originally native to Europe but brought to the United States for medicinal purposes. It is common in the eastern United States. Until the mid 1800's, marshmallow candy was made using the sap of the marsh mallow plant. Of course today's spongy cubes share only sugar in common with the original recipe.Gelatin replaces the sap in the modern recipes.
Marsh mallow is shown here primarily for its historical culinary usage. However, several parts of the plant are pleasant and edible as well.
The seeds may be eaten alone or sprinkled like nuts on a salad. The flowers are edible and may be tossed on salads as well. The leaves may be eaten in salads or steamed and eaten as a vegetable. Roots may be boiled to soften and then can be fried.
Cultivation of Marsh Mallow
Site: Plant marsh mallow about 2 feet apart. It will thrive in any soil or situation, but grows larger in moist than in dry land, and could well be cultivated on unused ground in damp localities near ditches or streams. It need full sun.
Propagation: It can be raised from seed, sown in spring, but cuttings will do well, and offsets of the root, carefully divided in autumn, when the stalks decay, are satisfactory, and will grow of their own accord.
Growing: Thin or transplant to 1 foot apart; in second season thin again to 2 feet apart. Not suitable for growing indoors.
Harvesting: Leaves, root and flowers. The leaves are picked in August, when the flowers are just coming into bloom. They should be stripped off singly and gathered only on a fine day, in the morning, after the dew has been dried off by the sun. Collect seeds when ripe. Dig up roots in autumn.
Culinary Uses: Not an herb used widely today, but it was used extensively in making the early confection of its name by using the powdered root. The root contain a mucilage that thickens in water and was heated with sugar to create a soothing sweet paste.
It's seeds (or cheeses) may be sprinkled like nuts on salads. It's young leaves may be used in salads and its roots, boiled to soften and then fried.