Today’s featured plant is Common Mallow, Malva neglecta.
Common Mallow is also known as button weed, cheese mallow, cheese weed, cheeses, dwarf mallow, garden mallow, low mallow, malice, round dock, round-leaved mallow, running mallow. (source) Note: These are not related to marsh mallows (Althaea officinalis), which are a different species and are the original source of marshmallows, the confection.
Range and Identification of Common Mallow
Common Mallow is native to Europe, but has now naturalized through much of the United States and Canada, except for the extreme north and deep south east (see map). It is found in disturbed and neglected areas such as gardens, nursery pots, landscapes and lawn edges, barnyards, road sides, railroad tracks, vacant lots, etc. It prefers nicely moist to dry soils, and will spread in thick, choking carpets of foliage if allowed to do so. It has a single taproot and can be easily pulled when young, but it's tougher to pull once well established, and can tolerate mowing and weed whacking.
The plant is a winter or summer annual or biennial, meaning that it may complete its lifecycle in one year or two, depending on conditions. (source) The leaves are a distinctive kidney shape with strong veining, and rise on somewhat fleshy stalks – one leaf per stem. The stalks get a red tint and thicken as they age. Leaves are 1.5 inches (4 cm) across. The plants can be up to 2 ft. (60 cm.) tall, but tend to be very heavy and sprawl along the ground.
Flowers are small and delicate, about ½ – ¾ in. (1.5 – 2 cm.) across. They have five petals, which are white with purple or pink veining. When closed, they look like miniature rosebuds, but when open, you can clearly see the wavy edges of the petals (top photo).
As the flowers mature they form little round disks that resemble miniature cheeses, thus the cheese related names. 🙂
Common Mallow for Food and Medicine
The flowers may be small, but the are enjoyed by many species of insects. Illinois Wildflowers discusses animal uses of common mallow:
The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract primarily bees, including honeybees, bumblebees, Little Carpenter bees, Cuckoo bees (Nomadine), Mason bees, Green Metallic bees, and other Halictid bees. Other visitors of the flowers include miscellaneous flies and White butterflies, especially Pieris rapae (Cabbage White). The caterpillars of some Lepidoptera feed on mallows, including Anomis erosa (Yellow Scallop Moth), Pyrgus communis (Common Checkered Skipper), and the butterflies Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak) and Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady). The foliage is non-toxic and probably eaten by rabbits. Birds apparently make little use of the seeds.
There's an awesome squidoo post about mallow that talks about eating it.
Mallows are a good source of those “best friend” minerals, calcium and magnesium. They also contain potassium, iron, selenium, and vitamins A and C.
All parts of the mallow plant are edible — the leaves, the stems, the flowers, the seeds, and the roots (it's from the roots that cousin Althaea gives the sap that was used for marshmallows).
One of the most popular uses of mallows is as a salad green.
Mallows are high in mucilage, a sticky substance that gives them a slightly slimy texture, similar to okra. I prefer not to eat them alone because of this, but they're great mixed with other foods in a salad.
Please visit “Mallows – A nutritious edible weed” for more information and recipes.
Livestrong.com discusses the medicinal uses of mallow:
Herbalists employ dwarf mallow both topically and orally. According to Plants for A Future, the online database for medicinal and edible wild plants, Malva neglecta is more frequently used as a skin-soother than for coughs or stomach upset because it is not as potent medicinally as marsh mallow. But that gentleness may make it useful as a laxative for children, the database notes. As a topical application, the mucilaginous leaves and flowers have demulcent properties, meaning they form a protective layer and offer some pain relief. Their gel-like texture provides internal relief for constipation, coughing and stomach upset. In laboratory testing, Malva neglecta provided protection from trauma to the gastric system.
Germany's Commission E, which grades herbs for medicinal use, rates mallow plants useful for treating skin conditions, coughs and throat irritants. In the United States, Malva neglecta's status, as well as those of other mallows, remains relegated to folk medicine uses. Commercial blends of herbal teas containing mallow, however, are available. No serious side effects are currently reported from mallow teas for the general population, but Drugs.com warns that not enough is known to consider it safe for pregnant and nursing women. Additionally, its possible effect of lowering blood sugar makes Malva neglecta unsuitable for diabetics.
Please visit “Medicinal Benefits of Malva Neglecta” to learn more.
As always, any medical information is for informational purposes only. Always exercise caution when using any wild plants and make sure you have positively identified the plant. You can check out my favorite wildcrafting books if you like.
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