Common Mallow – Nutrient Dense and Pain Relieving
If I told you that a wild edible plant was used as a substitute for both egg whites and okra, you'd probably think, “That's crazy!”, but common mallow can indeed do both. We'll share how to identify this common weed and put it to use for food and medicine.
Common mallow (malva neglecta) is also known as button weed, cheese mallow, cheese weed, round dock, cheeses, and malice; or dwarf, garden, low, round-leaved, and running mallow.
Where to Find Common Mallow
Malva neglecta is native to Europe, but is now found all over the world, including most of the United States. It grows in disturbed and neglected areas such as gardens, nursery pots, landscapes and lawn edges, barnyards, road sides, railroad tracks, and vacant lots.
Mallow prefers moderately moist to dry soils, and will spread in thick carpets of foliage. It has a single taproot, and tolerates mowing and weed whacking.
The plant is a summer or winter annual or biennial, meaning that it may complete its life cycle in one year or two, depending on conditions.
Mallow leaves are palmately lobed with strong veining, and rise on somewhat fleshy stalks with 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.
The flowers are small and delicate, about ½ – ¾ inches (1.5 – 2 cm) across. They have five petals, which are white with purple or pink veining. When closed, the flowers look like miniature rosebuds. When open, you can clearly see the wavy edges of the petals.
As the flowers mature, they form little round disks that resemble miniature cheeses. The “fruit” are edible fresh, cooked or pickled like capers.
Bees, flies and butterflies visit common mallow flowers, while several types of caterpillars and herbivores nibble the leaves. (See Illinois Wildflowers for more wildlife information.)
What is Mallow Used for?
In the book “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds“, author Katrina Blair devotes an entire chapter to singing the praises of mallow for food and medicine. There are thirteen wild food recipes, as well as instructions for herbal healing.
Common mallow is in the same plant family as okra, and shares the same mucilaginous properties. (It's slightly slimy, and can be used for thickening.)
It's high in calcium and magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, selenium, sodium, iodine, vitamin B complex, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Katrina uses the young leaves raw in salad, mixed with other greens. She dices the whole plant and steeps it in water for several hours to create a thick liquid vegan egg white substitute.
Cook the root like a potato, or chop and blend to make “mallow milk”. Chop and cook mature leaves in recipes to thicken and bind (think okra or egg substitute).
Is mallow the same as marshmallow?
These are not the same as marsh mallows (Althaea officinalis), which are the original source of marshmallows, the confection, but both are in the family malvaceae.
Mallow Medicinal Use
Common mallow is a virtual apothecary in one plant. Medicinal actions include:
- Anthelmintic – expels parasites
- Antibacterial – fights bacteria
- Anti-inflammatory – contains salicylic acid
- Astringent – tightens and tones
- Demulcent – creates a protective film
- Diuretic – increases the flow of urine
- Laxative – promotes bowel movements
- Emollient – softens skin
- Expectorant – removes excess mucus
Make mallow water, tea or juice to use internally, and poultices for external use.
To make mallow water, fill a jar about half full with finely diced mallow. Add water to fill, and steep for one to two hours. Strain and drink, or use topically. Refrigerate for longer storage.
Mallow contains a small amount of ephedrine, which may act as a mild stimulant. It's moistening properties may help counteract the drying effects of caffeine.
For a mallow poultice, gentle heat crushed leaves and place them on the affected area.
Learn More About Using Wild Plants
This is post #31 in the Weekly Weeder series.
You may also enjoy other posts in the Weekly Weeder Series, including:
- Recommended Wildcrafting Reference Books
- Purslane – One of the Most Nutritious Plants in the Garden
- Wild Lettuce – Sleep Aid and Pain Reliever
The Herbal Academy also offers a Botany & Wildcrafting course that provides detailed in depth herbal study.
This post is for general information and is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness. Always exercise caution when using any wild plants and make sure you have positively identified the plant.
Please share this post or leave a question or comment if you enjoy the Weekly Weeder series.
Originally published in 2012, updated in 2020.
I’ve been looking forward to this weed because it grows in abundance at the same place I pick my plantain from. Thank you so much for doing these they have really helped.
Thanks, Michelle. I’m glad you find them useful.
I’ve never heard of this plant before…but the latin name…makes me think of the words “badly neglected”…but I”m sure that’s not what it means in Latin 🙂 🙂 Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂
“mallows neglected” – maybe because they thrive in neglected areas?
I LOVE marshmallow root and use it to help heal my stomach lining almost daily. I have not yet used it in salves but it supposed to be fabulous so that is definitely in the works. Thanks for all the great identification information! I wrote a post on it but didn’t cover any of the wild-crafting info, more how to use so good job and thanks! 🙂
This is frustrating — pretty much everything in my yard seems to be “not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers.” I expect to be nursing for a lot longer, but would really like to try some of these. Do you know if it’s just medicinal doses we should be avoiding, or should I not even put any in my salad?
Because most weeds have not been well studied, except in some cases to extract something that they can market as a drug, must health resource sites will caution avoidance for women who are pregnant or nursing. My feeling is that in small doses most are perfectly safe (unless there are other warnings), however I am not a trained health professional.
Thanks. I figure since I’m nursing rather than pregnant, I shouuld be able to see any adverse effects right away and stop eating whatever caused it.
That sounds reasonable to me.
Aha! This persistent “weed” has been coming up in my rock garden (literally, just rocks) for years. I never knew what it was. Perhaps I’ll try some tomorrow. Thanks for another great informative post!
Isn’t it funny when you finally know what a weed is that you’ve been seeing for years? For me, it’s a little like learning something about an old friend that you never knew, and suddenly looking at them in a whole new way.
I have not been able to find Malva neglecta seeds to buy. Anybody know where I can buy some?
Folks on Dave’s Garden are willing to give some away – Dave’s Garden, Malva Neglecta. You might also ask around locally and see if anyone you know has it growing. It can be quite aggressive, so must people are happy to get rid of it.
This is great information! Thank you. The donkeys at Equine Outreach Horse Rescue Ranch will munch on the plant in our walks around the grounds. Since this is high desert and donkeys are desert animals I trusted their instincts.
I notice in Dave’s garden that he said you can find mallow in Denver Colorado but I want to know where in Denver..I live in denver and I missed eating mallow. My mom use to cook them all the time.
I will appreciate your info
I’d love to help you out, Naima, but I’ve only been to Denver once, and that was passing through the airport. I’d suggest asking whoever posted that they found it in Denver on Dave’s Garden. Otherwise, keep an eye open for neglected areas that are moist but not wet.
I live in Colorado Springs and it grows everywhere there is a neglected area…like my back yard! I used to live in Idaho Springs (in the mountains west of Denver) and it was there as well. I’m sure if you look around in the summer, you’ll be able to find it.
Hello from Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland. I love your site. Your pages and recipes are really well laid out and explained. I’m going to look for this week this morning when I take my dog out for his walk. So far I’ve only really picked wild garlic and rosehips but I’m very keen to forage more.
Thanks for the Rhubarb Bread recipe, that’s now on my list too,
Thank you for your words of encouragement, and I’m glad you enjoy the site. Have fun foraging.
My grandmother used to pick wild mallow which was abundant in Turkey and she used to make stuffed mallow leaves. Yummy
Thank you! Very useful information!
Thanks for this information! Mom taught us to eat mallow cheeses, and later I discovered the leaves were edible but I didn’t know anything about it past that. I have a lot in my back yard!
I was wondering if this may be used as a substitute for guar gum in gluten free baking?
I haven’t been able to find information on someone using it, but possibly? Obviously you’ll have a color change, but it should provide some level of binding/gelling, similar to chia seeds or flax seeds.
I live in northern Alberta, Canada. Where can I find? I can buy dried mallow in our east indian stores. However, is dried mallow still nutritious etc.?
I suspect that dried mallow is Corchorus olitorius, not malva neglecta, but it is also loaded with nutrients. Malva sylvestris is a more closely related species, which you can find at Mountain Rose Herbs and other online retailers.