In the middle of summer a beautiful, dainty pink flower appears by the wayside. This lovely blossom could easily deserve a place in our gardens, but its more glamorous sister has laid claim to that place of honor, while this Cinderella herb remains largely unrecognized. No wonder its Latin byname is 'neglecta'. I am talking about Malva, the common mallow, cousin of Marsh Mallow (Althea officinalis), widely admired as an healing herb and source of a sweet by the same name, which is characterized by a uniquly squishy consistency reminiscent of packaging foam. However, commercial variants of this confection do not necessarily contain any natural constituents of the Marsh Mallow plant.
Just as numerous cultivated species of this family, both, Malva neglecta, and its close sister, Malva sylvestris can also be used for food and medicine. All species of Mallow have a certain quality in common, which I personally do not greatly care for, at least not as a texture for my food. Mallows are moist by nature and their consistency is always somewhat slimy. Think Okra and you'll get the idea. However, there are people who pick the young leaves and add them to their salads, or mince them and prepare them as spinach. This mucilaginous quality has a somewhat laxative effect and you might find that instead of filling your tummy, you will be emptying it. Yet, this same mucilaginous property, which occurs most profusely in the roots, is also responsible for the healing virtues, the demulcent and emollient properties, which help to loosen an entrenched cough or soothe inflamed skin and mucous membranes.
Mallows, as a source of food, always seem to rouse very passionate and frequently opposing opinions - people either love it or hate it. A traditional Egyptian dish, a soup known as 'Melokhia ', is made with Corchorus olitorius, another species of the Malva family. This soup was apparently quite popular in ancient Egypt, and is still considered Egyptian 'soul food'. While in its basic peasant version it boasts few ingredients, and resembles pondweed soup, it has evolved in style and complexity in the hands of more sophisticated chefs. There are countless versions of this dish and perhaps it is the distant ancestor of the well familiar Louisiana style Gumbo, which is made with Okra, also a member of the Malva family.
In the UK, children sometimes call Mallow 'cheeses', as one can, with a little imagination, see a certain resemblance between a round of cheese in miniature form and Mallow's little round, flattened seed pods, with its demarcated sections.
As a source of food Mallows may be an acquired taste, but they certainly deserve appreciation for their medicinal powers. The slimy constituents of Mallows, and particularly of Marsh Mallows, contains its most important healing properties, the soothing and moisturizing principles which have anti-inflammatory and demulcent actions. Mallow is very helpful for inflammations of the mucous membranes, for dry cough, irritated lung tissue or inflamation of the alimentary canal. It can also be used for inflammatory skin conditions and can make a good ingedient in home-made emmolient cosmetics and creams.
Make sure the mallow roots aren't moldy or too woody. Marshmallow gives off almost twice its own weight of mucilaginous gel when placed in water.
Make a tea of marshmallow roots by simmering in a pint of water for twenty to thirty minutes. Add additional water if it simmers down. Strain out the roots.
Heat the gum and marshmallow decoction (water) in a double boiler until they are dissolved together. Strain with pressure.
Stir in the sugar as quickly as possible. When dissolved, add the well beaten egg whites, stirring constantly, but take off the fire and continue to stir. Lay out on a flat surface. Let cool, and cut into smaller pieces.
Recipe from Dian Dincin Buchman 'Herbal Medicine'
Boil the meat, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper in 6 cups of water. Skim off the fat, then simmer for 2 hours. Take the meat out and cut into smaller chunks. Strain the stock.
Bring the stock back to a boil. Crush the leaves between your hands into the stock, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. (If you use fresh leaves you can soak them in water and squeeze out a couple of times to remove some of that slimy quality.)
Meanwhile, crush the remaining garlic with some salt and fry with the corianderit in the oil until it golden. Stir in the cayenne pepper. Set aside until the leaves are cooked.
When ready to serve, return the meat to the pot, stir in the spices, and let simmer for a few minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately--and pass the onions and tomatoes soaked in lemon juice on the side.
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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.