Monday, September 21, 2009

Common Mallow

Common Mallow (Malva neglecta)

The sitting down, when school was o'er Upon the threshold of the door Picking from Mallows, sport to please The crumpled seed we call'd a cheese.
--- John Clare, "A Contemplation Upon Flowers", by Bobby J. Ward [1]

Common Names: Button weed, common mallow, cheeseweed, dwarf mallow, running mallow, malice, round dock, roundleaf mallow and umbrella mallow.

Scientific Name: Malva neglecta

A winter or summer annual or biennial, freely branching at the base, with a prostrate growth habit. Found throughout the United States, more common in turfgrass, landscapes, and nursery crops.

Seedling: Cotyledons are heart-shaped, 5-7 mm long, 3-4 mm wide, with 3 main veins, hairy. Alternate young leaves, crinkled, circular with toothed margins, and hairy on both surfaces.

Roots: Short, straight-taproot.

Leaves: Alternate, on long petioles, circular to kidney-shaped, toothed and shallowly 5-9 lobed, 2-6 cm wide. Short hairs present on upper and lower leaf surfaces, margins and petioles.

Flowers: Single or in clusters of 2-4 in leaf axils. Petals white or tinged with pink or purple.

Stems: Freely branching at the base, lying close to the soil surface, nearly erect or spreading with tips turned up (decumbent).

Fruit: Flattened, round, disc-like, composed of 12-15 small hairy, 1-seeded segments, 5 to 8 mm in diameter, resembling a button in appearance.

Identifying Characteristics: Fruit disc-like, resembling a button. Leaves circular, toothed, and long petioled. This weed is often confused with Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea). However, ground ivy leaves are opposite, and have much more prominent rounded teeth. Ground ivy also has square stems and may emit a minty odor. [2]

Common mallow is an annual or biennial member of the Mallow family (Malvaceae) that reproduces by seed. Emerging from a short, straight taproot, roundleaved mallow develops stems up to 12 inches long. The hairy stems are horizontal or upright and may be branching at base. The stems do not root as they touch the ground. The simple, alternate leaves of roundleaved mallow are round to heart-shaped usually with 5 to 9 shallow lobes or rounded teeth. They are up to 2 1/2 inch across and hairy on both surfaces. The petioles are also hairy and up to 4 inches long. Flowers of roundleaved mallow are solitary or borne in clusters of two to four in leaf axils. The flowers have five white petals and are often tinged pale lilac and grow up to 1/2 inch long. The fruit is a flattened disk with 10 to 20 small, hairy segments with one seed per segment. Flowering occurs May through September.

The generic name, Althaea, is derived from the Greek, altho (to cure), from its healing properties. The name of the order, Malvaceae, is derived from the Greek, malake (soft), from the special qualities of the Mallows in softening and healing.

Leaves and young shoots of common mallow are edible raw or cooked. They have a mild pleasant flavor, and are said to be highly nutritious. They can be added in quantity to salads, and make an excellent lettuce substitute. They can also be cooked as greens. The leaves are mucus-forming, so when cooked in soups etc. they tend to thicken it in much the same way as okra. A decoction of the roots has been used as an egg-white substitute for making meringue. The roots are brought to the boil in water and then simmered until the water becomes quite thick. This liquid can then be whisked in much the same way as egg whites. A tea can be made from the dried leaves. Immature seeds are edible raw or cooked. Having a pleasant nutty flavor, they are nice as a nibble but too small in most cases to collect in quantity.

Caution: When grown on nitrogen rich soils (and particularly when these are inorganic), the plant tends to concentrate high levels of nitrates in its leaves. The leaves are perfectly wholesome at all other times.

Medicinal Uses: All parts of common mallow are astringent, laxative, urine-inducing, and have agents that counteract inflammation, that soften and soothe the skin when applied locally, and that induce the removal (coughing up) of mucous secretions from the lungs. The Cherokee Indians put the flowers in oil and mixed them with tallow for use on sores. The Iroquois Indians made a compound infusion of plants applied as poultice to swellings of all kinds, and for broken bones. They also applied it to babies' swollen stomach or sore back. The Mahuna Indians used the plant for painful congestions of the stomach. The Navajo, Ramah Indians made a cold infusion of plants taken and used as a lotion for injuries or swellings. The plant is also an excellent laxative for young children. Other Uses: Cream, yellow and green dyes can be obtained from the plant and the seed heads. The root has been used as a toothbrush. [3]

Antiinflammatory; Antiphlogistic; Astringent; Demulcent; Diuretic; Emollient; Expectorant; Laxative; Poultice; Purgative; Salve. All parts of the plant are antiphlogistic, astringent, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, laxative, salve. The leaves and flowers can be eaten as part of the diet, or a tea can be made from the leaves, flowers or roots. The leaves and flowers are the main part used, their demulcent properties making them valuable as a poultice for bruise, inflammations, insect bites etc, or taken internally in the treatment of respiratory system diseases or inflammation of the digestive or urinary systems. They have similar properties, but are considered to be inferior to the marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis), though they are stronger acting than the common mallow (M. sylvestris). They are seldom used internally. [4]

Mallow leaf and flower preparations are most commonly consumed as teas.8 Boil 2 to 4 teaspoons of the dried leaves or flowers in 150 ml of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. One cup of the tea can be drunk three times per day. For topical use, a cloth can be dipped in the hot tea, allowed to cool, and then applied to inflamed skin. Alternatively, a cold infusion can be made, by soaking 6 teaspoons of the dry herb in a quart of cold water overnight, and then applied topically. According to some herbalists, the cold infusion likely extracts the plant’s mucilage (a soothing, gelatinous substance) most effectively and may work best for both internal and topical use. [5]

[1] http://books.google.com/books, "A Contemplation Upon Flowers"
[2] http://www.ppws.vt.edu/scott/weed_id/malne.htm
[3] http://montana.plant-life.org/
[4] http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Malva+neglecta
[5] http://www.vitaminshoppe.com/content/en/healthguide/hncontent.jsp?ContentID=3263004 &category=Herb&org=VSI Home