Wild Arkansas

October 12, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Fast food in the backyard–The common mallow

Filed under: Edible plants, foraging, health, herbs — Tags: , , , — WildArkansas @ 10:18 pm

No one told us when we were young not to eat the little green cheese wheels off the mallow plants growing in the backyard.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned the whole mallow is edible and used as a medicinal herb in many parts of the world.

Malva neglecta or the Common Mallow has been used for at least six thousand years (that we know) as a staple food and a medicinal herb in Africa, Eastern Europe and parts of China, but has only been reported in the United States beginning in the early 19th century.

Mallow grows nearly everywhere and is a hardy perennial, or annual in cold climates. The plant cannot survive in climates that dip below 28˚F, but does manage to seed so that it returns in close proximity to the mother plant in following years.

In Turkey the common mallow is used to treat stomach disorders, ranging from peptic ulcers to heartburn to stomach ache. In Britain crushed and bruised shoots have been used as poultices for sores, abscesses and boils, with the small cheese-wheels being eaten whole as a gentle laxative.

The Iroquois used a poultice of the mallow plant to treat swellings of all kinds and a decoction for childhood colic.

We ate it, because we liked the way the fruit looked (cute cheese-wheel shapes), it was fast food, tasted good and we thought it was cool to walk around being able to gather food wherever we went.

As another invasive, Malva can be found nearly everywhere. It thrives in full sun and partial shade and can be found in waste areas, as well as, tended lawns. Most people fail to notice the plant because it is so common and is often mowed with other grass.

Despite its invasive nature, Mallow is another benevolent plant that can be used medicinally with no ill-effects listed.

The only warning I did run across in the research is that of plants growing in agricultural areas. These plants should be avoided because of the high selenium and nitrate content.

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