The Mallows Althea officinalis, Malva sylvestris
Family: Malvaceae (Mallow Family)
Althea officinalis: Marsh Mallow, Mallards, Schloss Tea, Cheeses
Malva sylvestris: Common Mallow, Cheeseweed, Dwarf Mallow
Parts Used: Leaves, Flowers, Seed Pods, Roots
Botany & Identification:
Mallows belong to the Mallow Family (Malvaceae) which are mostly concentrated in tropical regions, and contain a lot of well known & economically important species: Okra, Cacao, Cotton, Hibiscus & the Lime Tree (Linden). The entire family is rich in slippery ‘mucilage’ and is generally a very safe family.
Common Mallow can be found growing erect or prostrate. Its leaves are kidney shaped, and palmately lobed, with dentate margins. Often the leaves have a purple spot in the centre of the leaf base, and they have long petioles. Crushing a leaf between your fingers will exude a slimy mucilage which is present in all parts of the plant. It is commonly found in Scotland on roadsides, wastegrounds, & hedgebanks.
Marshmallow is an erect & very velvety downy perennial herb, growing to 2 metres with a branched stem bearing stalked, roundish 3-5 lobed leaves, folded like fans. It produces pink flowers growing together in leaf axils. It is found much less frequently than Common Mallow, and grows near salt & brackish marshes & ditches in England & Wales. It is rare in Scotland. Nowadays Marshmallow is imported from Eastern Europe for use as medicine in the UK.
Edibility & Nutrition: The entire Mallow family (Malvaceae), with the exception of the cotton plant (Gossypium hirsutum) are reported to be edible. Adding Mallows to soups helps thicken them. Common Mallow leaves contain more than double the amount of protein per 100g than cultivated vegetables like Spinach & Kale. This nutritious plant also contains essential fatty acids, Vitamins A, B, C, E, fibre, calcium magnesium, zinc, selenium and potassium
Growing & Harvesting:
Harvest leaves in spring/summer, flowers from late spring, seed pods early in summer & roots later in autumn. Malva sylvestris is a biennial/perennial growing to 0.5m at a fast rate, it is hardy and resilient & easy to grow. Low growing Common Mallow leaves are good at accumulating metals from vehicle exhausts, & can concentrate nitrates (especially from inorganic farm fertiliser): be conscientious about harvesting healthy plants in clean areas. Althea officinalis can grow to a great height and will need some supports.
Medicinal Actions: Anti-inflammatory, Anti-Tussive, Astringent, Demulcent, Diuretic, Emollient, Expectorant, Mild Laxative, Nutritive, Poultice
Qualities: Cooling, Moist, Salty, Sweet
“The Mallows are some of “the central mucilages in the Western pharmacopoeia”
- The high mucilage content in the Mallows make them excellent & safe herbs for soothing any inflamed or irritated part of the body: inside & out. They provide moisture & softness to dry & inflamed respiratory, digestive, skin & urinary ailments
- Common Mallow & Marshmallow can be used for gently easing the tension of IBS, for soothing & healing ulcers, gastritis & heartburn, & providing lubrication in constipation caused by dryness.
- They are effective in hot, burning urinary tract infections
- & in dry, hacking coughs, sore throats, or thickening mucous to make it easier to cough up. A powder of the root mixed into honey is great for this.
- Mallows are slow, steady plants whose full medicinal action is built up over time, so continued use is best
- The leaves of the mallows are high in iron, zinc, protein & many vitamins, making them good mineral tonics
- Externally, a poultice of the fresh leaves or soaked roots is excellent for cooling burns, sunburns, rashes, other hot & dry skin conditions, and for reducing swellings, insect bites, boils & abscesses
- The root of the Marshmallow is very drawing, so a paste of the root mixed with water can help to pull out splinters, and bring pimples & boils to a head
History & Folklore:
- The original ‘Marsh Mallows’ were prepared using a paste of the roots of the marshmallow which was used for coughing & hoarse chests. Nowadays marshmallows no longer contain the plant. In botany, the genera name ‘Althea’ comes from the Greek word ‘altho’ (to cure)- from its healing properties. The family name Malvaceae comes from ‘malake’ (soft)
- Mallows have been used in many different ways in the kitchen – leaves are eaten raw in salads, or added to soups to thicken them, a decoction of the roots can be used as an egg white substitute in making meringues, the young seeds can be nibbled like nuts, in China mallow roots are a common ingredient in making hearty & medicinally potent soups, and an Egyptian mallow forms the basis of the famous soup Melokhia
- Mallow has been considered the most ‘important plant in society’ in Jewish culture, and its common name in both Hebrew & Arabic translates to ‘bread’. It was an important famine crop
Marshmallow Root is best extracted into water: cold water extracts more of the mucilage & less starch, while hot water will extract more starch & less mucilage.
Powdered Root in Honey, Capsules, Poultices.
Leaves are best used fresh, but can be dried for later use.
- 2 capsules four times a day of the powdered root
- Tea of leaves & flowers – three cups a day
- Cold Infusion of the Root – infuse 2-4g of root in a cup of cold water & leave overnight
- Tincture: 1:5, 25% alcohol, 1-4ml three times a day
Common Mallow: inulin, mucilage (10% of flowers, 7% of leaves), phenols, flavonoids
Marsh Mallow Root: Mucilage (18-35%) starch, mucilage, pectin, asparagin, tannins
Marsh Mallow Leaf: Mucilage, flavonoids, polyphenolic acids
Cautions & Contraindications: Marshmallow Root can delay absorption of other drugs taken at the same time.
- Backyard Wildcrafting http://backyard-wildcrafting.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/common-mallow.html
- Bartram, T (1998) Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, London: Constable and Robinson
- Bruton-Seal, Julie & Seal, Matthew (2008) Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies, Great Britain: Merlin Unwin Books
- Grieve, Maude http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mallow07.html
- Hatfield, Gabrielle (2007) Hatfield’s Herbal: The Secret History of British Plants, London: Allen Lane Publishers
- Hoffman, David (2003) Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, Vermont: Healing Arts Press
- Hope, Chris (2015) Benefits of the Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris), in Permaculture Magazine: https://www.permaculture.co.uk/readers-solutions/benefits-common-mallow-malva-sylvestris
- Mabey, Richard (2007) Food For Free, 2nd Edition, Collins Publishing
- Plants for A Future http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Malva+sylvestris