2023: Year of the Malvaceae!
Updated: Feb 25
Mallows; fiber, flowers, flavor.
Malvaceae is a plant family as diverse as it is fascinating. From the alien-like Babao trees of Madagascar, to the showy hibiscus flowers of the tropics, the family includes many agronomically and ecologically important plants.
This table is a small sample of the ~4000 members of the family. In 2023, we’ll be growing several okra varieties, tea and floral hibiscuses, kenaf for fiber trials, and various mallows as border plants for pollinators. If only we could grow chocolate and durian in Michigan...
The family has many important plants for flavor (hibiscus tea, chocolate), fiber (cotton, kenaf), showy flowers (hibiscus) and medicine (hibiscus, cola). Fun fact- the original recipe for Coca-cola called for cocaine from Coca leaves and caffeine from Cola nuts.
One of the main features of most species is the mucilage. If you’ve ever okra noticed the slimy goo in your okra, this is in many other species as well. For example, this edible goo is the essential component of the roots of Marsh Mallows that delicious marshmallows were made from! Scroll to the bottom for an old-fashioned marshmallow recipe from the plant.
Malvean Botany – Synapomorphies-
What makes a mallow a mallow?
Malvaceae family typically have simple, alternate leaves, often with serrated edges. They may be palmately or pinnately veined, with stipules present. The flowers are typically large and showy, with five petals that are often fused into a funnel or bell shape. The stamens are numerous and fused into a tube around the pistil, and the ovary is typically positioned superior to the petals and stamens. Hibiscus flowers come in a range of colors, from bright red to pale pink, and they're a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies.
The fruit is usually a capsule, sometimes a berry or drupe, and often contains many seeds. The plants in this family may be annual or perennial herbs, shrubs, or trees, and are found in a wide range of habitats, including tropical and temperate regions.
Marshmallows were originally made using the sap of the marshmallow plant, which is where they got their name. While modern marshmallows are typically made using gelatin, corn syrup, and other ingredients, you can still make marshmallows using the roots of the marshmallow plant.
1/4 cup marshmallow root powder
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1. Combine the marshmallow root powder and water in a small saucepan, and heat over low heat until the powder is fully dissolved.
2. Mix the powdered sugar and cornstarch in a separate bowl.
3. Slowly pour the marshmallow root mixture into the bowl with the powdered sugar and cornstarch, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth.
4. Add the honey to the mixture, and stir until it is fully incorporated.
5. Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish, and allow it to cool for several hours.
6. Once the mixture has fully set, use a knife or cookie cutter to cut it into bite-sized pieces.
7. Coat each piece in additional powdered sugar and cornstarch to prevent sticking.
8. These homemade marshmallows will have a slightly different texture and flavor than traditional marshmallows, but they should still be soft, fluffy, and delicious.