Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris) is an attractive species that has been used throughout history in food and medicine. In traditional folk medicine, common mallow was often used for making medicinal poultices and soothing ointments. It was also harvested as a nutritious wild edible, as you will see below.
Purplish, pink flowers adorn a coarse, hairy stem with lobed, crinkly leaves that resemble ivy. The plant grows up to 40-120 cm. The seeds appear as edible flat discs.
Biennial or perennial. Native.
Cultivated land, grassland, roadsides, scrub, wasteland
Parts Used For Food
Leaves, flowers, roots and seed or ‘nutlets’.
March, April, July, August, September.
Common mallow yields disc-shaped seeds, or ‘nutlets’, that are edible and snacked on like ‘cheeses’.1 The leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach, added to thicken soups,2 or deep-fried like green wafers.3 The flowers and buds can be pickled.4
Common mallow is a highly nutritious green, containing (per 100 g of fresh weight) 4.6 g protein, 1.4 g fat, 24 mg vitamin C, as well as vitamin A and carotenoids.5,6 The fats contain important omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which could help to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.7 The leaves also contain health-giving antioxidants.8 Common mallow is also a good source of dietary fibre.9
Traditional Medicine Uses
Common mallow was once a ‘cure all’ of Medieval herbal medicine. It was used to treat many conditions from stomach ache to problems during childbirth.7 In Britain and Ireland, the plant has been used as a laxative, to cleanse the liver, to cure blood poisoning, and to treat urinary problems, rheumatism, heartburn, coughs and cuts.10,11 The mucilaginous roots in particular were used to make poultices and soothing ointments.12
There are no particular uses for common mallow outside food and medicine, although the pretty flowers can be used for decoration around the home.
The seeds may be poisonous if eaten in large quantities.13
1. MacNicol, M. Flower Cookery. The Art of Cooking with Flowers. Collier-Macmillan Ltd. London. 1967.
2. Facciola, S. Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications. Vista, California, 1998. ISBN: 0-9628087-2-5.
3. Mabey, R. Food for Free: A guide to the edible wild plants of Britain. The Collins Press. London, 1978. ISBN: 0-00-219060-5.
4. Duke, JA. Handbook of Edible Weeds: Herbal Reference Library. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group. Florida, 2000. ISBN: 0-8493-1284-1.
5. Guil et al. Nutritional And Toxic Factors In Selected Wild Edible Plants. Online, 1997.
6. Kuhnlein, HV, Turner NJ.Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany and Use. Springer. London, 1991. ISBN: 78-2881244650.
7. Eland, SC. Plant Biographies: Plant’s Eye View of the Planet and Man. Plant Biographies. CD-ROM, 2013.
8. Barros et al. Leaves, Flowers, Immature Fruits And Leafy Flowered Stems Of Malva sylvestris: A comparative study of the nutraceutical potential and composition. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Online, 2010. DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2010.03.012.
9. Cortes Sánchez-Mata de, M. Tardío, J (ed). Mediterranean Wild Edible Plants. Springer. London, 2016. ISBN: 978-1493933273.
10. Gasparettoa JC et al. Ethnobotanical And Scientific Aspects Of Malva sylvestris L.: a millennial herbal medicine. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. Online, 2011. DOI: 10.1111/j.2042-7158.2011.01383.x.
11. Jackson, PW. Ireland’s Generous Nature: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. Missouri Botanical Garden Press. St Louis, Missouri, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-915279-78-4.
12. Grigson, G. The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon. Abingdon, 1996. ISBN: 1-85986-165-2.
13. Quattrocchi, U. World Dictionary of Medical and Poisonous Plants. CRC Press. Taylor & Francis Group. Florida, 2012. ISBN: 9781420080445.