How to Care for your Malva Sylvestris (Common Mallow)

Malva Sylvestris 

“Malva”, derived from the greek word Malakos, which means soft. “Sylvestris”, latin word, pertains to overgrown wooded areas and means to reside in such rural, wild habitats or forests.

Family: Malvaceae

Germination: 2 weeks

Growth: 3-4 ft high, 2-3 ft wide

Zone: 4 – 8

Soil: Thrives in well-draining, moderately fertile, but will tolerate many soil types

Water: Moist – Medium

Sun: Part-shade to full sun

Physical Characteristics

Mallow genus from the Malvaceae family, Common Mallow has many nicknames: High Mallow, Tall Mallow, Wood Mallow, French Hollyhock or “Cheeses”. Predecessor of the Marshmallow plant, which has been proven to be more beneficial medicinally. Common Mallow is a spreading, branched herb. It is straight growing, but can also become decumbent (reclining to the ground). It can grow up 3-4 ft high, and spread outward 2-3 ft.. The leaves are lobular and rounded with an average of five lobes, but can have anywhere from two to seven lobes. Fine hairs radiate from the center of the leaves, making them velvety to the touch. This soft, fuzzy texture is probably how the plant received the name Malva. 

Common Mallow is a perennial in most parts of the United States and of Europe, but a biennial in the Mediterranean and annual in North Africa. Native to Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa.

Auxiliary flower buds grow in clusters and bloom from June through September. Each flower bears five, magenta-colored heart-shaped petals with violet veins running from the stamen outward. The small, cup-shaped flowers are reminiscent of hibiscus or hollyhock blooms (hence the nickname French Hollyhock).

Through October, after petals have dropped, this plant fruits green wheel-shaped seed discs. These seed dicss strongly resemble a cheese wheel; thus giving it the “Cheeses” name. When ripe, the seeds turn tan to brown in color. The discs are segmented and when broken apart, 10-20 seeds emerge.

Dies off in the winter, but comes back full swing next year, if the roots are left undisturbed.

Planting & Care

This hardy, easily grown plant prefers well-draining, moderately fertile soil but will tolerate sandy, loamy, or heavy clay soil types. Thrives in moderately moist soil but will tolerate less water. The leaves will wilt when thirsty, but will spring back up after a good watering. Although you can plant in part-shade or full sun, Common Mallow will grow fuller and more bountiful in a sunny spot. 

Easily grows from seed and will also self seed outdoors if unmanaged. Can start indoors, or direct sow outdoors in early Spring, after danger of frost has passed. Germination takes approximately 2 weeks. 

Edible Uses

All parts of the plant are edible – leaves, stem, flowers, seeds, and root. Although eating the stem is not recommended, due to its fibrous structure. Flowers can be eaten raw, tossed in a salad, or used as a garnish. Leaves can also be consumed raw, cooked or steeped and drank like tea. Leaves can be harvested, then dried or frozen, to be enjoyed later. The flowers can also be dried.

The leaves are high in mucilage – “polysaccharide substance extracted as a viscous or gelatinous solution”. Meaning, the leaves are slimy in texture when eaten, much like okra. Because of this, many prefer to mix the leaves in with other salad greens. 

Fun fact: Common Mallow’s sister plant Marshmallow also produces mucilage. It was this gooey substance which was derived to make the fluffy, sugary Marshmallows we know and love today. Hence the name. Introduced to the French in the early to mid 1800s, marshmallows were made by mixing mallow sap, egg whites, and sugar and poured into a cornstarch mould to set. Nowadays, gelatin is used in place of mucilage.

This attractive, low-maintenance and nutritious plant would be a great, low cost way to feed the masses; in an attempt to fight hunger in our communities.

Medicinal Uses

Seek professional advice before using medicinally. We take no responsibility for any adverse effects.

Internal –

Common Mallow is a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, selenium and vitamins A and C. As mentioned earlier, malva sylvestris is rich in mucilage. Plants rich in mucilage are known as “demulcents”. Demulcents protect irritated or inflamed internal tissue. These properties make it great for treating a cough or cold, coating the throat and reducing inflammation. Steep the leaves, flowers or roots to make tea. Tip: add mint or eucalyptus for extra soothing power for those coughs and colds. Mucilage is also excellent at soothing stomach and mouth ulcers, irritable bowel disease, and other digestive issues due to its cooling and inflammatory properties. 

External –

As demulcents refer to internal aid, emollients refer to external aid. Common mallow can be used in a poultice or made into a salve or balm and is excellent at soothing insect bites, burns, bruises and other skin irritations. A poultice is a soft, damp mass which is often medicated and heated, then applied to the irritation or injury. A poultice can be made by grinding down the leaves and roots and bundling the paste into a piece of cloth. The bundle is then used by applying light pressure to the wound or painful area. 

Special Uses

Natural dye can be extracted from the leaves and seeds, resulting in hues of cream, yellow and green. The stalks of this plant can be used in other textile applications like paper-making and fiber spinning or twining. The process of turning Common Mallow stalks into fibers would be similar to linen (flax) production; which involves drying, retting, and baleing. After the fibers are baled, they are taken to a processing location where the fibers are further separated by rolling and breaking the stalks into shorter fibers. 

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