How to Find and Prepare Nutritious, Edible Mallows

Updated on May 29, 2019
joanhall profile image

Joan lives in Los Angeles, where she is an expert on edible weeds.

This guide will show you how to identify and prepare a few species of edible mallows, as well as provide background on where they come from and how they were named.
This guide will show you how to identify and prepare a few species of edible mallows, as well as provide background on where they come from and how they were named. | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The leaves of the Malva parvlifora.Here's a close-up of a Malva neglecta leaf.My son, BT, standing next to some mallow plants that have grown as tall as he is!
The leaves of the Malva parvlifora.
The leaves of the Malva parvlifora. | Source
Here's a close-up of a Malva neglecta leaf.
Here's a close-up of a Malva neglecta leaf. | Source
My son, BT, standing next to some mallow plants that have grown as tall as he is!
My son, BT, standing next to some mallow plants that have grown as tall as he is! | Source

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.

Identifying Mallows

  • 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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This plant has more distinctly lobed mallow leaves, and you can also see its flowers. Photographed in a yard near the 105 freeway in Lynwood.The small, round, light green thing is the seed pod. Isn't it cute? Photographed in a vacant lot in Lynwood.
This plant has more distinctly lobed mallow leaves, and you can also see its flowers. Photographed in a yard near the 105 freeway in Lynwood.
This plant has more distinctly lobed mallow leaves, and you can also see its flowers. Photographed in a yard near the 105 freeway in Lynwood. | Source
The small, round, light green thing is the seed pod. Isn't it cute? Photographed in a vacant lot in Lynwood.
The small, round, light green thing is the seed pod. Isn't it cute? Photographed in a vacant lot in Lynwood. | Source

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.

A delicate, little Malva neglecta flower blooming.
A delicate, little Malva neglecta flower blooming. | Source

Eating 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:

Mallows work particularly well in salads.
Mallows work particularly well in salads. | Source

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.

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    • joanhall profile imageAUTHOR

      Joan Hall 

      6 weeks ago from Los Angeles

      @RJ This is not the plant that was used to make marshmallows, but the two plants are relatives.

    • profile image

      RJ 

      7 weeks ago

      Is this the same mallow that can be made into marshmallow?

    • profile image

      Mia Vaughnes 

      4 months ago

      Very useful article! Great information and I love the embedded videos too. Thank you.

    • profile image

      Mai 

      4 months ago

      Can you tell me where i can buy the seeds for the plant?

    • profile image

      Caroline Hans batarse. 

      5 months ago

      Mallows can be sauteed with olive oil chopped onions salt pepper when tender add a little lemon juice . eat it with toasted pita bread . delicious.

    • profile image

      tessawarner@gmail.com 

      11 months ago

      Very impressed by the depth of knowledge in this article. Have bookmarked! Thank you so much - Tessa

    • profile image

      Marianne 

      17 months ago

      Thank you so much for this article. I must say I can't get past the fuzziness on the leaves for salad. Even after marinating (only because I couldn't stomach it the first day and then I tried it the second day, still furry). I may use a small amount in a lentil soup or garbanzo (chickpea) curry. I really wanted to like this because these plants are all over the place in my garden and property. I wanted to like Nettles, too, but the taste is so grassy to me. Thank you!

    • profile image

      spirisandtotems 

      2 years ago

      I am so looking forward to my mix of sorrel dandelion mallow and spinach with fresh peas this summer!

    • profile image

      Mallower 

      4 years ago

      I wanted something for my babies to eat. I fried them in coconut oil and butter with sea salt over medium high heat. Tastes like a cross between seaweed and kale - very good!

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      5 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Amazing! I'll watch for these now. Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      My grandchildren love the "cheeseys"....I just read one article that says the common mallow has a component that may stop autoimmune responses in people. I am really excited about that. I will be trying it for that!

    • kmhrsn profile image

      kmhrsn 

      5 years ago

      I have some weeds in my yard that resemble this. I'll have to take a closer look!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for this great information. I have a mallow growing in my back yard, and now (thanks to you) I know what to do with it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      Great post, thanks for sharing this! I originally heard Mallow was edible, from John Kohler of Growing Your Greens.com, but this gave me even more information. It's growing like crazy in my back yard right now! I actually ate one of the leaves today and it wasn't bad.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      @ecogranny: I love this "weed"... I just went out and picked a ton of it in a field nearby here in AZ and had it in my salad! Delish!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      Thank you so much for this info. I have spent almost two hours looking for what I have growing wild on my property. It looked like a wild geranium to me, but then I saw pics and ruled that out. Finally found Little Mallow, and there it was! My chickens love it, I pick some

      for them everyday. I know about the benefits of dandelions, but didn't know about this 'weed.' I have dandelions and huge Little Mallow plants growing wild in my small enclosed garden and other places. Yippee, I can now go pick them and eat them myself! Thank you again!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      Thank you ! I ate these all the time with my friends as a kid. We called them Cheeseweed and loved the little soft seeds. Yummy! Who knew they were good for you>??

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      I searched this plant after buying a mysterious green leafy vegetable from the organic farmers' market in Istanbul. It was delicious! Thanks! I want to plant some in my mom's jungle-like back garden now!

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 

      6 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      So cool! I always called it Malva... well, it is insidious around here so I know I'll be having lots of Mallow greens in my salads this year.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      I had no idea mallows were edible. Back when I had a garden, I thought of them as a scourge I had to spend hours to eradicate. Buy their seeds? Oh my goodness! But now, I wish I had that garden again, so I could try them. Thanks for a wonderfully informative page.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 

      6 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      I wish this one grew on my property. I remember it from when I lived in Calif.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 

      6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I know virtually nothing about plants - edible or not - so this page about the Mallow plant was very educational. Now I can see where marshmallow got it's name. :)

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 

      6 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      This way we can kill two birds with one stone: get some food and get rid of weed!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      A weed is just a plant who's virtues are eeither lost because of modernization or interfer with someones livelihood- green grass lawns- golf courses- farming- so many plants are not native to this country - if you really take a look at them! Should we curse our early ancestors as being invasive- when they really were! We can damn almost all plants that were not here before colonists as invasive- the point is to live and let live in a balance! I will eat the weeds in the meantime and hope that we do not continue with killing the whole ecosystems with toxic chemicals!

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 

      7 years ago

      Fun! I don't hate them as a weed now.

    • profile image

      Deadicated LM 

      7 years ago

      Very informative Lens, I've used it in salads.

    • stylishimo1 profile image

      stylishimo1 

      7 years ago

      That mallow salad looks lovely, I will show it to my partner, he will not try any of the edible wild plants aound here but I love the fact that you can just go out and pick a salad from the wild.

    • xanthoria24 profile image

      xanthoria24 

      7 years ago

      I wouldn't recommend that anyone buy Malva neglecta as it is an invasive species. My mom was curious about the plants that she remembered from childhood, and she always liked Malva neglecta, remembering it as the plant that she fed to the chickens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      I had heard John Kohler mention Mallow once, so I thought I'd look it up and wow was I impressed. Also impressed that John has a link here too. Awesome

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      this is awesome!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      Monica March 20, 2012

      I had no idea that mallow existed in the U.S. I Have them in Morocco every time I visit.

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      I had no idea these plants were edible - thanks for the introduction to them!

    • profile image

      KarenCookieJar 

      7 years ago

      I saw Jamie Oliver go out and eat things from the side of the road on his show once. I'd be a little scared I was picking the wrong thing and eating poison, but thanks for sharing your experience, it's an interesting idea.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      well done, this one and the last one I saw on yours have purple stars, way to go, keep writing!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      @joanhall: thanks

    • joanhall profile imageAUTHOR

      Joan Hall 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles

      @anonymous: Both plants are in the family Malvaceae, but from everything I've read, common mallow does not contain ephedrine, which is the ingredient in the country mallow that people are worried about.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      I have mallow growing in my yard but am afraid to eat much of it because of all the warnings about a plant called "country mallow". Is the common mallow weed related to the risky country mallow

    • joanhall profile imageAUTHOR

      Joan Hall 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles

      @anonymous: There are some other plants that have generally round leaves, but to my knowledge there aren't any other non-edible weeds that have leaves that look EXACTLY like mallows. If everything on the plant matches the description of a mallow (leaves, flowers, seed pods, stems, everything), then I would consider that a positive identification.

      The mallows I see around here don't get very big flowers either. Maybe the ones grown from seed would be different. I don't know.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      I think the mallow plant is a mjr weed in my yard. And to think that I am looking for seeds. How do I make sure that it is the one I can eat? Also mine do not have much flower....I am quite interested in gettng some seeds of the big purple flower variety. I can trade some bulb anise seeds or nasturcian seeds.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 

      7 years ago from Virginia

      Wow, this old aggie did not know there was such a thing. Gonna have to get some of those seeds.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      You can get Mallow seeds from Listia---it's where you "exchange stuff for other stuff" -- It's a free auction site-- I put some Purple Mallow seeds up there just a few days ago and I'm going to be putting some more up very soon so keep checking.Grow your own Mallow !

    • joanhall profile imageAUTHOR

      Joan Hall 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles

      @anonymous: Wow, the lawns in your area must be extremely well tended. If you can't find any mallows in any lawns or planters, you might try a nearby park. If it absolutely must be mallow leaves and you don't find any anywhere, there are some currently growing in the planter in front of the church I attend. -- Carson Christian Outreach. They're on the small side, but they're mallows.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      hi! our painted lady butterflies just laid eggs! we need mallow leaves asap and i can't seem to find any around our house. we live in Torrance/Redondo Beach. any ideas?

    • profile image

      ladykida 

      7 years ago

      I see mallows all the time and didn't know they were edible, thanks, nice job with the lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      The first two leaves of the mallow that grows rampant in our area are perfectly heart shaped.

      I find that interesting as this plant seems to have a 'heart' to heal.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      Thank you, very interesting lens.

    • joanhall profile imageAUTHOR

      Joan Hall 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles

      @anonymous: I didn't see any places where you could buy whole mallow leaves, but here is a link where you can buy seeds if you want to grow it: Mallow seeds from Amazon

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      where i can buy the mallow leaves please? we eat them in morocco as side dish...help please

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      I saw musk mallow for the first time in my sisters garden and was so drawn to it because of the beauty and the cute seed pods. I don't think she knows that mallow is edible, will have to tell her.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      8 years ago from Colorado

      I never knew anything about mallows. Very enlightening. Thanks! :-)

    • joanhall profile imageAUTHOR

      Joan Hall 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles

      @anonymous: With the mallows I see, that seems to be something that happens with the passing of time. When the leaves are young, they're in good condition. As the plant gets older, the leaves get buggy or get the little yellow bumps on them. So I try to get to the leaves when they're young.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      have a bountiful crop of mallows in my back yard (identified thanks to this site), but most of them have scale on them! Ick. I'm surprised at the diseased condition, because the plants otherwise look healthy and are growing like weeds (ha ha). But we've had a bizarre weather cycle lately of unseasonably warm and dry temps, followed by freeze, followed by the latest period of rain. (Global warming, anyone?) Perhaps that accounted for (1) the abundance of mallow in the first place and (2) its inedible, infested condition. I did find a very few new, tender leaves that I could use in a salad, but it was a pain (literally) bending over so long searching for them. Anyone have any ideas as to why so much scale on my mallow?

    • puerdycat lm profile image

      puerdycat lm 

      8 years ago

      Wonderful lens. Love back-yard botony. Recalls childhood summers--the two grassy tracks we called a driveway--and the chamomile on the rise in the middle.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      8 years ago from Central Florida

      I see plants in Florida with similar leaves but they are more like a groundcover. I'll have to get them identified to see if they are edible like this.

      Congrats on the purple star for this attractive and informative lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      I am so excited to have found this site! Can't wait to share it with my raw foods group. We just started foraging outings and teaching ourselves edible-plant identification. We are total newbies. I had suggested we pool together our learnings and put them online as we get better at this new endeavor, but you've already done that! Bravo. This is a fabulous site.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 

      8 years ago

      Always learn something new from you and thanks for the Sherlock idea!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      I was just looking at the mallow outside here on my farm in AZ, and planning to harvest for my daily raw juice. When it is in season, I use it instead of kale in my green juice. I love it. I was hoping to try a few new recipes using mallow. I saw one for kale chips that I might try with mallow instead.

    • Nightowl John profile image

      Nightowl John 

      8 years ago

      I remember a PBS show with Huell Howser that had some of these weeds in it. We lived in Los Angeles at the time and I immediately went outside to find some, because I was sure I had seen them before. But, I couldn't find any, so I didn't get to try them. Great lens!

    • EmmaCooper LM profile image

      EmmaCooper LM 

      8 years ago

      Really useful stuff!

    • profile image

      jgelien 

      8 years ago

      I have never heard of this plant. I would love to try it. Very interesting lens!

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Quick 

      8 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      How cool! I love that your son eats things straight from your yard. Frugal and healthy!

    • GramaBarb profile image

      GramaBarb 

      8 years ago from Vancouver

      Did I ever learn a lot just now! Very impressive lens - we should all educate ourselves in edible so-called weeds!

    • joanhall profile imageAUTHOR

      Joan Hall 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles

      @nickupton lm: Hi, Nick!

      I just looked up hedge mustard (Sisymbrium officinale) and it looks similar to a mustard plant I have in my yard. They're not exactly the same species, but they must be related. My mustard plant (Brassica juncea) is one that I planted myself from seed, so I don't know if it is considered a weed or not. I use it in soups and stuff.

    • nickupton lm profile image

      nickupton lm 

      8 years ago

      This is cool. I used to collect lots of weeds to eat in the past. Hedge Mustard was my favourite - a good substitute for garlic!

    • CCGAL profile image

      CCGAL 

      8 years ago

      Well Done! I am sure I have seen Mallow plants, but had no idea they were edible. Very interesting topic and an exceptional lens.

    • joanhall profile imageAUTHOR

      Joan Hall 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles

      @anonymous: Nice looking recipe! Out here the flowers on the mallows don't get very big at all, but folks in other locations would enjoy this. I'll add you to my recipe section. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      9 years ago

      Lovely post, i really enjoyed reading it. I have another common mallow recipe on my food blog that's delicious. I hope you enjoy it as much as I loved finding this post! Oni.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      9 years ago

      Very neat lens, not a plant that grows in my neck of the woods or at least I don't think it does.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 

      9 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Cool! Never heard of these plants. And I never knew that there was a plant related to marshmallows. Thanks for letting me learn something new today! But I have to admit I don't like okra 'cos its slimy so I might not be a fan of these mallows either. Oh well.

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