Mallow The large and important family of Mallows are most abundant in the tropical region, where they form a large proportion of the vegetation; towards the poles they gradually decrease in number. Besides the medicinal virtues of somany species, some are employed as food; the bark of others affords a substitute for hemp; the cotton of commerce is obtained from the seed vessels of yet other species, and many ornamental garden flowers are also members of this group, the Hibiscus and our familiar Hollyhock among the number. There are many different varieties in the Mallow Family, but this article refers to Malva sylvestris, the Common Mallow. Known as common mallow to English-speaking Europeans, it acquired the common names of cheeses, high mallow and tall mallow (mauve des bois by the French) as it migrated from its native home in Western Europe, North Africa and Asia through the English-speaking world. M. sylvestris is a vigorously healthy plant with showy flowers of bright mauve-purple, with dark veins; a handsome plant, often standing 3 or 4 feet (1 m) high and growing freely in fields, hedgerows and in fallow fields.

Common mallow can be found growing erect or prostrate, which may initially cause confusion because it's easy to assume they might be two different species. Mallow's kidney-shaped or palmately-lobed leaves are notably creased, typically with dentate margins. The leaves often show a purple spot in the centre of the base of the leaf and this can also be seen to run down the petiole on some specimens. On other specimens, the purple spotting and colouring is completely absent. Mallow leaves have long petioles. Their deep green foliage hints at a renowned drought tolerance. During flowering, the leaves appear alternately on the stems. Holding a leaf relays the surface coarseness. But tear and crush one, and you discover a family pattern - the mucilage. You will soon experience a slimy and tacky feel between your fingers. All parts of the plant contain mucilage. In bloom, the Malvaceae family plants produce five large notched petals in each open flower. Common mallow has showy pink petals laced with darker-coloured strokes. In the centre of the flower lies a pollen-loaded column of fused stamens. This surrounds the stigma, which rises above the column. Mallow is known to freely seed. The round seed pods, known as 'cheeses', soon follow flowering. These were once munched by children on their way to and from school. The pods are held on stalks, close to the flowering stem.


Malva sylvestris is a spreading herb, which is an annual in North Africa, biennial in the Mediterranean and a perennial elsewhere. It can grow upto three feet (one meter) tall, (3 meters has been observed in a wild or escaped from cultivation setting, and several cultivated plants of 2 meter or more in height) with a growth habit which can be straight or decumbent, branched and covered with fine soft hairs or none at all, M. sylvestris is pleasing in appearance when it first starts to flower, but as the summer advances, "the leaves lose their deep green color and the stems assume a ragged appearance. The leaves are borne upon the stem, are roundish, and have three or five to seven or five to nine shallow lobes, each 2 to 4 centimeters (1 to 2 inches) long, 2 to 5 centimeters wide (1 to 2 inches) and 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches) in diameter. Downy, with hairs radiating from a common center and prominent veins on the underside. Described as reddish-purple, bright pinkish-purple with dark stripes and bright mauve-purple, the flowers of Malva sylvestris appear in axillary clusters of 2 to 4 and form irregularly and elongated along the main stem with the flowers at the base opening first.It has an epicalyx (or false calyx) with oblong segments, two-thirds as long as calyx or 2–3 millimeters long and 1.5 millimeters wide. Its calyx is free to the middle, 3–6 millimeters long, with broadly triangular lobes or ovate mostly 5–7 millimeters long. The flowers are 2–4 times as long as the calyx; Petals are wrinkly to veined on the backs, more than 20 millimeters long or 15 to 25 millimeters long and 1 centimeter wide, eggshaped, margin notched with a fringe of hairlike projections. Slender flower stalks that are either 2 centimeters long or 1 to 3 centimeters long. Ten broad carpels in axillary clusters; stamen about 3 millimters long, radiating from the center with short soft hairs.

The mallow plant has been used as a powerful herbal medicine and as a wild food source especially during the Roman times and is being cultivated and eaten as a vegetable in China and is still used as an ingredient in herbal cough medicines, lotions and other cosmetics because it is beneficial for the skin. The entire plant can be used for a number of ailments. The herb is not only known for its soothing medicinal tea benefits but it can also be added to various dishes as a garnish like salads, desserts and as a topping on cakes. It can be used to make poultice ( a soft heated dressing applied to an inflamed or sore area of the skin), also salve, a soothing ointment and a tincture, a solution that consists of medicinal substance that is dissolved in alcohol.The leaves are an excellent source of vitamin C, calcium and iron, a boiled liquid may be used externally to clean abscesses and boils by pulling out the pus. It is also helpful in the treatment of skin abrasions, rashes and burns. Research have also been proven that this powerful herb is used to protect the kidneys.

Nicholas Culpepper says of Mallow in his Complete Herbal

“The leaves and roots of Mallow boiled in wine or water or in broth with Parsley or Fennel do open the body and easy the pains and torments of the the belly coming thereby. The decoction of the seed of any of the Mallows made in milk or wine, doth marvellously help with diseases of the chest and lungs”

Mallow is recognized as an efficient herbal remedy for colds and asthma. According to research, the leaves and flowers boast strong anti-inflammatory properties and thus efficiently reduce inflammation at the level of the throat. Moreover, mallow seeds contain mucilaginous substances which cover the inflamed tissue, forming a protective layer which allows it (the tissue) to recover. The great demulcent and emollient properties of Marsh Mallow make it useful in inflammation and irritation of the alimentary canal, and of the urinary and respiratory organs. The dry roots boiled in water give out half their weight of a gummy matter like starch. Decoctions of the plant, especially of the root, are very useful where the natural mucus has been abraded from the coats of the intestines, The decoction can be made by adding 5 pints of water to 1/4 lb. of dried root, boiling down to 3 pints and straining: it should not be made too thick and viscid. It is excellent in painful complaints of the urinary organs, exerting a relaxing effect upon the passages, as well as acting curatively. This decoction is also effective in curing bruises, sprains or any ache in the muscles or sinews. In haemorrhage from the urinary organs and in dysentery, it has been recommended to use the powdered root boiled in milk. The action of Marsh Mallow root upon the bowels is unaccompanied by any astringency. Mallow appears to be highly efficient in treating inflammations and irritations of the mouth as well, and provides relief in cases of dry cough, making a good natural antitussive. Rinsing your mouth or throat with a mallow gargle is said to help maintain healthy tissues and calm irritation. If you are suffering from gastritis or stomach acid, it might help to drink one or two cups of mallow tea (with roots) a day. Mallow will not only calm irritation, but it will also reduce inflammation throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Studies suggest that the roots are particularly efficient at reducing inflammation.

Malva sylvestris

The powdered or crushed fresh roots make a good poultice that will remove the most obstinate inflammation and prevent mortification. Its efficacy in this direction has earned for it the name of Mortification Root. Slippery Elm may be added with advantage, and the poultice should be applied to the part as hot as can be borne and renewed when dry. An infusion of 1 OZ. of leaves to a pint of boiling water is also taken frequently in wineglassful doses. This infusion is good for bathing inflamed eyes. An ointment made from Marsh Mallow has also a popular reputation, but it is stated that a poultice made of the fresh root, with the addition of a little white bread, proves more serviceable when applied externally than the ointment. The fresh leaves, steeped in hot water and applied to the affected parts as poultices, also reduce inflammation, and bruised and rubbed upon any place stung by wasps or bees take away the pain, inflammation and swelling. Pliny stated that the green leaves, beaten with nitre and applied, drew out thorns and prickles in the flesh. The flowers, boiled in oil and water, with a little honey and alum, have proved good as a gargle for sore throats. In France, they form one of the ingredients of the Tisane de quatre fleurs, a pleasant remedy for colds. Traditional medical practices recommend applying a poultice made from crushed flowers and seeds locally on affected areas in order to reduce itching, redness, swelling and soothe the skin. A mallow gargle used at regular intervals is said to reduce painful gum inflammations. In traditional medicine, mallow is used to treat kidney stones, kidney inflammation and gallstones. Mallow infusions are said to treat insomnia, headaches and constipation. Poultices were sometimes applied on the stomach to help relieve cramps and pain.

Mallow owes its health benefits to potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory natural compounds such as flavonoids, tannins and other polyphenols which offer significant protection against free radical damage. Also, its high mucilage content is supportive of the soothing effects it has on the pharynx, mouth and gastric mucosa. Overall, mallow is a lovely ornamental plant and a strong medicinal herb. It boasts incredible soothing properties due to its strong anti-inflammatory activity. The roots, leaves, flowers and seeds of the plant are all edible, adding to its value. Nevertheless, remember not to abuse this herb because, in great amounts, it may cause severe allergic reactions such as diarrhea, vomiting and gastrointestinal discomfort, which you might want to avoid.

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