This is the first herb that really shocked me. Mostly because I was under the impression that it was actually ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea, another plant for another day). Somehow I spent my entire life referring to this plant as ground ivy. Imagine my shock and dismay when I discovered my mistake!
After a little research, I learned the happy truth of this plant. Common mallow, Malva neglecta, is a member of the mallow family, a cousin of the famed marsh mallow. The leaves and roots of both plants are mucilaginous, which led to marsh mallow's use in the production of olde timey marshmallows. Okra, with its very similar mucilaginous quality, also belongs to this family. Any of these plants can be used to thicken soups and sauces. I've even read about common mallow being used to make vegan gelatin.
|It's hard to miss mallow growing in your lawn!|
It's worth noting that, while one mallow plant branches out quite a bit from a central stem, the plant does not send down additional roots when its branches contact the soil (unlike an ivy). The leaves are rounded and toothed, and have between five and seven lobes. The entire plant is edible. It doesn't have an intense flavor. It's mild, green-tasting, a little like spinach (especially when cooked). Its mucus-producing qualities make this plant a little slimy when cooked- but in a good way! It adds a really great texture to rice and pasta dishes.
|pretty little flowers!|
Its flowers are very small, and range from white to pale lavender. They look lovely sprinkled on a salad. Though, with the seeds as well, they are so small that gathering them in quantity is really hard. They also seem to be flowering constantly, so each plant has many seeds in various stages of development.
A common name for Mallow is "cheeses," because the seed pods look like little wheels of cheese. Adorable. While they are still green, they are a nice, nutty munch.
|A single plant from my front lawn. Quarter for size reference.|
With a little effort, the entire plant is easily pulled from the ground. A decoction of the root is soothing to irritated membranes, especially those in the digestive system. Extracts of Malva neglectus root have shown activity against tuberculosis. If I were making salad, I'd throw all the leaves, flower, and seed pods (excluding the brown ones, since those are ready to sow) right into the mix. Maybe roast the root, chop it finely, and mix it in as well! Check out this this blog post I wrote detailing a recipe with common mallow leaves and flowers.
Due in part to its mucilaginicity, this plant is soothing internally and externally, though mildly astringent. A tea made from the leaves can help angina, coughs, upset stomachs, and sore throats. Use it as a poultice on mild wounds, and as a secondary treatment for tumors (after consulting a doctor).
Adding common mallow to your diet is a good idea! It is a diuretic, a mild laxative, an expectorant, and is a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, selenium, and vitamins A and C.
|Separated: leaves have been washed in the colander, roots have been washed and trimmed, seed pods are in the glass, and whole stems are placed in a mason jar (a melancholy bouquet).|
All mallows are feminine in nature (maybe because of the similar leaf structure to lady's mantle?) and are ruled by the Moon and the element of Water. Magically, all mallows are used for love, protection, and exorcism. A bouquet of mallow placed by a door or in a window will cause a lost love to think of you. Honestly, I can't recommend this. The bouquet is so sad looking, and withers quickly. To best use common mallow for its properties of love, use the dried herb in sachets or incense, or try baking and cooking with the fresh plant.
Make an ointment or oil from the leaves and stems, and you have a powerful protection against black magic. It's also said that applying this oil/ointment to your body will cast out demons. I would tone this idea down a little and say that it is certainly purifying. It could perhaps be used to purify an altar or magical tools. Include a pressed leaf in your journal or Book of Shadows to protect it.
|Root from two separate plants, quarter for size reference.|
Look at that root! I'm excited to cook with it. I may gather several more and make a tincture. Doesn't it seem like it would make a great magic wand? It can be stiff enough to function as a toothbrush in a pinch. While you're nursing a cold or sore throat with mallow tea, use the root as a healing/purifying talisman.
|Into the freezer!|
Common mallow is not a showy plant. Certainly there is no visual comparison to its ornamental cousin, the common hollyhock. However, it might do everyone some good to allow for a small bed of mallow in their yard. Call it a vegetable and plant it next to the lettuce. We all could use more greens, and how convenient that they are probably growing outside of your window as we speak.
I'm drawn to the name of the plant. Neglecta. Neglected mallow. I'm sure that name was chosen because the plant is a weed. It thrives with neglect. But, alternatively interpreting its name, we are neglecting to use this plant to its full potential. We have delicious, nutritious, healing, and magical mallow growing outside our doors, and we mow it. We stomp all over it. We spray poison on it.
Malva neglecta is a reminder. In the most literal sense, it reminds us to be aware of the world around us. All the answers are already here. We need only not neglect them.