How to Find and Prepare Nutritious, Edible Mallows
Mallows are an annual plant that are sometimes nowhere to be seen. But when they are in season, they dominate the streets here in Los Angeles, tall and plentiful.
They are an enemy to the well-manicured lawn, but a friend to foragers. My son, JG, loves mallows, however. They're one of his favorite vegetables.
The Origins of Common Mallows
The genus name for mallow is malva, which is derived from the Greek malakos, meaning "soft." This is likely a reference to mallows' mucilaginous texture, as they are a little gooey.
Malva is a large family of plants though. The species I see around here include M. neglecta (common mallow) and M. parviflora. Neglecta is Latin and means "neglected" or "ignored." The word neglecta is frequently used in naming weeds that spring up in untended areas. Parviflora is also Latin and means "small-flowered." The flowers on this plant are indeed dwarfed by the leaves.
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. Another nickname for them is "cheeseweed," because the little round seedpods look like little cheeses.
- 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 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.
Malvas Are Related to Marshmallows
Malva plants are a close relative of the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis), whose gooey sap was originally an ingredient in marshmallow candies—though now they use gelatin instead.
Medicinal Uses for Mallows
- 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.
For more information on the plant's medicinal uses, check out Botanical's guide to mallows.
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 its cousin Althaea gives the sap that was used for marshmallows).
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. 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.
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.
Cooking With Mallows
Mallows can also be eaten cooked. Here are a few recipes:
Fun Facts About Mallows
- 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.
- 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). For more information on how to use mallows as an egg substitute, check out this guide by SelfSufficientish on The Common Mallow.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
How do you prepare the roots of mallows for a meal?
I've never eaten the roots, only the leaves and some stem, which I generally eat raw. The only resources that I have seen that talk about using the roots are for making marshmallows or for medicinal purposes. But there is probably some information out there somewhere.Helpful 1