Common Mallow: A Strangely Erotic Medicinal Powerhouse
A Serious Note of Caution: you don’t need to be an expert on all wild plants to start foraging your food and medicine; you only need to be an expert on the plant you are going to use or consume. You’ve got one job: be certain. Any doubt is a warning to yourself… listen.
Binomial Etymology — Malva neglecta
Malv *a is “the mallow;” neglecta is “neglected” (Borror, 1960). The Latin name, malva, comes from the Greek term for mallow, malache, which was derived from the Greek term, malakos, which means “soft” (Moreno, 2005).
Binomial Pronunciation — Mal-Vuh. Neglect-Uh
USDA Status — Weedy, introduced, invasive.
Family — Malvaceae
Family Characteristics — Plants in the Malvacea family have multiple stamina merged into a singular column; here is a pictorial representation of this statement. The plants themselves are mucilaginous.
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Bearing one of the more appropriate species names, this much maligned edible and medicinal plant has been used as a synonym for loathsomely boring even by the Biblical Old Testament. Like a soul without culture, mallow has often been regarded like a cold and clinically living noun. The vast amount of modern literature naming Malva neglecta do so with a mind for eradication, or simply as a footnote in an ecological list of wayside things; however, there is more to the story. This same plant that you step on as a weed in your lawn has been utilized in sex magic and poetry for millennia and its uses as a medicinal herb by the ancient sages of proto-science are legion. Science is now beginning to discover new pharmacological properties of this plant, and — hey — I find it to be a pretty tasty plant.
This plant can be an annual, winter annual, or biennial with rounded, palmately lobed leaves (fig 2) with a heart shaped base where it attaches to the petiole. The leaves have five to seven lobes. The petiole tends to be longer than the leaf diameter. The flowers are axillary (fig 1), cup shaped, five-petaled, and the calyx tends to be around half the length of the flower petals (fig 3). The flower colors can range from white to pink to shades of lavender and blue. Sometimes delicate streaks of color can be seen radiating outwards from the center of the flower. Strangely, the stigma are elongated and tend to twine around the stamens making self-fertilization likely if not inevitable. The fruits are shaped like small green-lobed wheels with a circular indentation around the center (fig 4). This generally low spreading plant has viscous and mucilaginous qualities when crushed.
This cosmopolitan weed can be found growing in waste areas, weedy parking lots, lawns, and cultivated gardens everywhere.
Mallow is not aggressive in terms of its flavor, and its texture can be described as crisp to soft and viscid. The leaves and stems can be eaten fresh in salads. Since the leaves are markedly textured, it is important to wash them thoroughly as they can accumulate dust and dirt. Mallow can be dried/toasted and used as tea, or used to give soups a thicker body. The fruits are a delightfully crispy nibble raw, and can be pickled much like capers (Harrington, 1972). The seeds are also edible (Malva Neglecta, n.d.). The leaves can be used as an attractive garnish, or sautéed with oil, salt, and vinegar. The common mallow is consumed frequently in Turkey (Ozbucak, Kutbay, & Akcin, 2006). I have fried mallow leaves in hot oil to make delightfully crispy chips.
Mallow was/is traditionally used as dermatological aid in the healing of sores and swellings by the Cherokee, Iroquois, Mahuna, Navaho, and Ramah peoples in various topical poultices and infusions (Moerman, 2009). Incredibly fond of “malache” as medicine, Pliny the Elder (23–79 A.D.) recommended a decoction of the root for dandruff, the warm juice of the plant to treat melancholy, and the leaves boiled as a potherb in milk to cure the common cough. Pliny also touted the plant’s action as a mild laxative (Pliny’s Natural History, pg. 284). The juice of mallow was said to have been used with oil to prevent hair loss (Tynan & Maitland, 1909). In Eastern Anatolia, Malva is traditionally used as a potherb and cure for stomach ache, diarrhea, and asthma (Türker & Dalar, 2013). Even when toasted as a tea, the slightly thick quality mallow leaves impart to water is soothing to sore throats during sickness. In Pakistan, ingesting the plant is thought to help with hemorrhoids (Khan et al., 2013), and pulverized mallow seeds are used to treat bladder ulcers and coughs (Aziz et al., 2016). Italians use the plant for tea to help with inflammation and as a “gargle,” presumably, t0 help with a sore throat (Pieroni & Giusti, 2009). The people of Turkey are reported to use mallow as a compress to promote the maturation of abscesses (Özgökçe & Özçelik, 2004).
The plant exhibits potential antimicrobial and anti-fungal activities (Bushra et al., 2012). A particular use of mallow extract to treat acne is legally patented (“Composition for treating skin barrier and reducing acne”). Ethanol extracts of Malva neglecta have shown promising antibiotic properties against certain species of Staphylococcus (Seyyednejad et al., 2010), and relatively strong ACE inhibitory effects highlighting its potential effectiveness is relieving hypertension (Ozkan et al., 2016).
Pliny the Elder held that simply sprinkling mallow seeds on to your genitalia would produce sexual desire to “an infinite degree” (Pliny, 1885). Mallow was eaten and ritualistically vomited by the Iroquois as a love medicine (Moerman, 2009).
The Greek philosopher, mystic, and mathematician, Pythagoras (570–495 BC), was said to prepare a meal including the leaves of mallow for hunger, and another preparation including mallow seeds for thirst when going on extended sojourns within shrines (Riedweg, Rendall, & Schatzmann, 2005).
Job. 6:5–6:7 New Revised Standard Version
“5. Does the wild ass bray over its grass, or the ox low over its fodder?
6. Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt, or is there any flavor in the juice of mallows?
7. My appetite refuses to touch them; they are like food that is loathsome to me”
Job 30:4 KJV Bible
“Who cut up mallows by the bushes, and juniper
roots for their meat.”
“With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow, weed, and mallow ”
Spring is at the Door
“Her rosy feet are bare,
The wind is in her hair,
And O her eyes are April eyes, very fair.
After her footsteps follow
The mullein and the mallow;
She scatters golden powder on the sallow”
“… the mallow is not to be despised; rough though it be and the companion of coarse weeds, its satin-like flowers of deep pink and dark-green reniform leaves set off many a bit of barren waste (Bloom, 1903).”
The fruit of Malva neglecta has been shown to contain natural antioxidants (Türker & Dalar, 2013).
Michael Moore asserts that chickens allowed to feed on Malva neglecta will lay eggs with pink albumens; this is to say the chickens will produce eggs with a egg-pinks instead of egg-whites (1989). Oh yeah, and in case you missed it, Pliny the Elder emphatically believed that sprinkling mallow seeds upon your nether-region will result in a near-instantanious erection/arousal (Pliny, 1885). One is left to wonder how good ole’ Pliny eventually found this out.
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By Kevin Healey
Malva Neglecta. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/malva-neglecta/
Harrington, H. D. (1972). Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains (5th ed.). Albquerque, NM: The University of New Mexico Press.
Borror, D. J. (1960). Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms (1st ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Moreno, M. (2005). Malva neglecta Wallroth. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from Northern Arizona University, http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/plants-c/bio414/species%20pages/malva%20neglecta.htm
Riedweg, C., Rendall, S., & Schatzmann, A. (2005). Pythagoras: His life, teaching, and influence. United States: Cornell University Press.
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Bushra, I., Fozia, Abdul, W., Ali, R., Hussain, U., Hamid, I., & … Ijaz, A. (2012). Antimicrobial activity of malva neglecta and nasturtium microphyllum. International Journal Of Research In Ayurveda And Pharmacy, (6), 808.
“Composition for treating skin barrier and reducing acne”). 2015: n. pag. Print.
Moore, M. (1989). Medicinal plants of the desert and canyon West. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press.
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Khan, S. M., Page, S., Ahmad, H., Shaheen, H., Ullah, Z., Ahmad, M., & Harper, D. M. (2013). Medicinal flora and ethnoecological knowledge in the Naran Valley, Western Himalaya, Pakistan. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 9(1), 4. doi:10.1186/1746–4269–9–4
Pieroni, A., & Giusti, M. (2009). Alpine ethnobotany in Italy: traditional knowledge of gastronomic and medicinal plants among the Occitans of the upper Varaita valley, Piedmont. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine,5(1), 32. doi:10.1186/1746–4269–5–32
Aziz, M. A., Adnan, M., Khan, A. H., Rehman, A. U., Jan, R., & Khan, J. (2016). Ethno-medicinal survey of important plants practiced by indigenous community at Ladha subdivision, South Waziristan agency, Pakistan. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 12(1). doi:10.1186/s13002–016–0126–7
Özgökçe, F., & Özçelik, H. (2004). Ethnobotanical Aspects of Some Taxa in East Anatolia, Turkey. Economic Botany, 58(4), 697–704. doi:10.1663/0013–0001(2004)058[0697:eaosti]2.0.co;2
Seyyednejad, S. M., Koochak, H., Darabpour, E., & Motamedi, H. (2010). A survey on Hibiscus rosa — sinensis, Alcea rosea L. and Malva neglecta Wallr as antibacterial agents. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine,3(5), 351–355. doi:10.1016/s1995–7645(10)60085–5
Ozkan, G., Kamiloglu, S., Ozdal, T., Boyacioglu, D., & Capanoglu, E. (2016). Potential Use of Turkish Medicinal Plants in the Treatment of Various Diseases. Molecules, 21(3), 257. doi:10.3390/molecules21030257