Althea - Rose of Sharon - Marshmallow Plant
Hibiscus syriacus - Linnaeus
Malvaceae (Mallow) Family


Althea is an erect, hardy, deciduous shrub that produces cup-shaped flowers in summer and fall. Althea can be used as a large shrub or smaller ornamental tree, usually growing full to the ground. The shrub reaches heights of 8 to 12 feet and have a crown spread of 4 to 10 feet. The species has naturalized quite well in many suburban areas, and might even be termed slightly invasive.

The flowers are trumpet-shaped, 5 petals, with prominent yellow-tipped white stamens, occurring in late summer and into autumn. Flower colors include red, pink, white, cream, purple, blue and lavender depending on the variety. Individual flowers are short-lived, lasting only a day. However, numerous buds are produced on the shrub's new growth, and this provides prolific flowering over a long summer blooming period.

The leaves are small, light green, ovate or rhomboid (a quadrilateral of which only the opposite sides and angles are equal) in shape.

Of interest: Marshmallow (althaea officinalis) is more well-known as the sugary treat that it can be used to make than the plant itself. The plant is considered an ornamental and medicinal plant that is indigenous to Asia. The leaves of the plant are used fresh or dried, eaten in salads as a vegetable or made as a tea. As a medicinal herb it has extended for thousands of years with applications that include asthma, bronchitis, colds, coughs, Crohn’s disease, heartburn, inflammatory bowel disease, sore throat, stomach ulcers and ulcerative colitis. Most of these remedies are due to the mucilage found in the leaves and roots. This gelatinous substance has the ability to coat the digestive tract and throat. And it is this same substance that lends to the consistency of the sweet treat it can be made into. And it seems that the treat had its beginnings as a sore throat remedy. The evolution of the marshmallow appears to have begun with the Ancient Egyptians. But it was also influenced by the French who eventually replaced the marshmallow mucilage with simple gelatin because gelatin was easier to acquire. But for vegans, you can still find suppliers that use this plant as the basis for their marshmallows.

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