Mallow – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

Common Mallow 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.

Scientific name

Malva sylvestris

Family

Malvaceae

Botanical description

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.

Status

Biennial or perennial. Native.

Habitat and distribution

Cultivated land, grassland, roadsides, scrub, wasteland

Parts used for food

Leaves, flowers, roots and seed or ‘nutlets’.

Harvest time

March, April, July, August, September.

Food uses

Common mallow yields disc-shaped seeds, or ‘nutlets’, that are edible and snacked on like ‘cheeses’. The leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach, added to thicken soups or deep-fried like green wafers. The flowers and buds can be pickled.

Nutritional profile

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.

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.

The leaves also contain health-giving antioxidants. Common mallow is also a good source of dietary fibre.

Mallow recipes

Herbal 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.

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.

The mucilaginous roots, in particular, were used to make poultices and soothing ointments.

Other uses

There are no particular uses for common mallow outside food and medicine, although the pretty flowers can be used for decoration around the home.

Safety note

The seeds may be poisonous if eaten in large quantities.

Photo identification

References

Barros, L. et al. (2010) 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] 48 (6), 1466–1472.

Duke, J. A. (1992) Handbook of edible weeds. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Eland, S. C. & Lucas, G. (2013) Plant biographies.

Facciola, S. (1998) Cornucopia II: a source book of edible plants. Vista: Kampong Publications.

Gasparetto, J. C. et al. (2012) Ethnobotanical and scientific aspects of Malva sylvestris L.: a millennial herbal medicine: Scientific evidences of Malva sylvestris. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. [Online] 64 (2), 172–189.

Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s flora. Oxford: Helicon.Guil, J. L. et al. (1997) Nutritional and toxic factors in selected wild edible plants. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands). [Online] 51 (2), 99–107.

Kuhnlein, H. V. & Turner, N. J. (1991) Traditional plant foods of Canadian indigenous peoples: nutrition, botany, and use. Food and nutrition in history and anthropology v. 8. Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach.

Mabey, R. & Blamey, M. (1974) Food for free. London: Collins.

MacNicol, M. (1972) Flower cookery: the art of cooking with flowers. New York: Collier Books.

Quattrocchi, U. (2012) CRC world dictionary of medicinal and poisonous plants: common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology (5 Volume Set). Boca Raton: CRC press.

Sánchez-Mata, M. de C. & Tardío, J. (eds.) (2016) Mediterranean wild edible plants: ethnobotany and food composition tables. [Online]. New York: Springer.

Wyse Jackson, P. (2013) Ireland’s generous nature: the past and present uses of wild plants in Ireland. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.

Share Your Experience. Leave A Note For Others

  1. As a child my mother and uncle used to collect and eat the seeds of the common mallow, they called them nuts.

    I’ve never thought of using the flowers as a garnish, they’d look so pretty! Thank you for another fascinating wild flower feature.

    Reply
  2. My back yard is covered with this plant, the common mallow weed. I’ve been digging them out like crazy for 2 years trying to eliminate them and I have lately discovered the little “nut” that winds up in the dirt, repopulating the yard. Apparently mowing has helped scattered the seeds.
    So I got curious to identify the plant and learn more about it.
    What about the roots? Are they edible and how do you process them, and do the roots have medicinal properties?
    Thank you for your passion for weeds!

    Reply

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