This article was originally published by Joan Hall on www.dengarden.com
Mallows (part of “Edible Weeds in Los Angeles”)
Facts, fun, and recipes, all about the common mallow plant.
Mallows are an annual plant, and sometimes they are nowhere to be seen. But when mallows are in season, they dominate the streets here in Los Angeles, tall and plentiful.
Mallows are an enemy to the well-manicured lawn, but a friend to foragers. My son, JG, loves mallows. They’re one of his favorite vegetables.
Getting acquainted with mallows
Common mallow — Malva neglecta
The genus name for mallow is malva. Malva is derived from the Greek malakos, which means “soft”. I’m guessing that’s a reference to its mucilaginous flavor (a little gooey).
Malva is a large family of plants. I think the species I see around here include M. neglecta and M. parviflora.
Neglecta is Latin and, as you might expect, means “neglected” or “ignored”. The word neglecta is frequently used in naming weeds that spring up in untended areas.
Parviflora is Latin also and means “small-flowered”. The flowers are, indeed, dwarfed by the leaves.
Another nickname for mallows is “cheeseweed”, because the little round seedpods look like little cheeses.
Mallows are one of the “conquistador” weeds here in the Americas! They originated in Europe and Asia, were introduced to the New World by European settlers, and then proceeded to take over the territory.
Malva plants are a close relative of the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis) whose gooey sap was originally an ingredient in marshmallow candies.
But now they use gelatin instead.
The most obvious identifying characteristic for mallows is their leaves. On some plants the lobes are very distinct; on others the leaves are almost completely round.
The flowers and the round seed pods are small and are often obscured by the leaves.
Nutritional info about mallow plants
Mallows are a good source of those “best friend” minerals, calcium and magnesium. They also contain potassium, iron, selenium, and vitamins A and C.
Mallows as a solution to 21st-century problems?
In her book “Developing Markets for Agrobiodiversity”, Alessandra Giuliani includes mallows as one of the plants that should be developed as a crop to promote biodiversity in agriculture as a way to deal with Third World poverty and climate change.
Salad, salad, salad! (and other stuff)
Because it’s a weed that grows plentifully in neglected areas, mallows have been used throughout history as a survival food during times of crop failure or war.
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. My favorite salad base is a combination of mallow and sow thistle leaves. The softness of the mallow and the sharpness of the sow thistle complement each other so nicely.
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.
Some people really dig the mucilaginous taste, though. My son loves to eat mallows all by themselves and gets excited whenever he sees that mallow season has returned.
Mallows can also be eaten cooked. Here are a few recipes:
- Melokhia (a soup)
- Mallow soup (this one’s vegetarian)
- Here in Los Angeles, the mallows grow lots of big leaves but the flowers are pretty tiny. But if you live in area where the mallow flowers get large enough, they can be used in some neat recipes like:
- Sacred beans, an ancient Roman recipe
Mallows are good news for vegans!
The liquid produced from boiling mallows can be used in recipes as a substitute for eggs (be aware, though, that it’s green).
The mucilaginous properties of mallows make them popular as a soothing remedy for coughs and colds. They are thought to be useful as well for inflammation of digestive, urinary, or respiratory organs.
Mallows are also regarded as soothing and healing to the skin.
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