Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Foraging Mallow

A giant mallow leaf, large enough
 to cover 4 year old Lee's entire face
So, I've heard it's been snowy and cold in the US and Europe, or at least in the northern areas. Locally, however, though it is much cooler than it is during the summer, our winters are mostly just rainy, wet, and chilly, but not freezing. Even though you guys might be covered in a layer of snow right now, its prime greens foraging season where I live, and I'll be sharing my foraging finds with y'all.
If you get a little envious of the green here and the ability to forage when everything there is white, white, white... don't you worry, when it's prime foraging season in the US, almost everything locally has shriveled up and dried and died in the heat and drought here. We all have our heavy foraging seasons, and this is mine. I'll probably be posting quite a few foraging posts in the next little while (while I stock up my freezer with foraged greens to use after birth), so bear with me please. When its foraging season where you live, you can go back and reference the posts I wrote so that you too can hunt for those wild edibles.

Today, I'll be talking about one of my favorite wild edibles- mallow. It actually seems fitting to start off the foraging season with a post on mallow, because mallow was my "gateway drug", the wild green that started my love affair with foraging.
Ironically enough, one year and one day ago, my friend, Butter, posted a post on her blog about Candied Sweet Potato with Mallow Topping. Well, back then, I actually didn't know who Butter was, I just had stumbled across her blog and started reading through the archives. This post about foraging for mallow struck me, because I knew that plant!!! I had seen mallow growing locally. Until that point, I didn't realize that I, too, could be a forager, but once I identified, picked, and prepared my first wild edible, I had a craving to find more and more wild edibles, and so my foraging habit was forged.

Mallow is actually a great plant with which to start foraging, as it grows everywhere. Yes, all over the world, including America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia, so it doesn't matter where you live, you, too, can forage mallow. The other two reasons why its a great starter is because there are no poisonous look-alikes, and it tastes good, without the mild bitterness typically found in many of the available wild greens.

So, what does mallow look like, and how can you identify it?
Well, there are quite a few different types of mallows, each of them with slightly different appearances, but no worry, they're all edible. Everything in the mallow family (malvacae) is edible, so even if you misidentified one type of mallow, you don't have to worry about accidentally poisoning yourself and your family.

Mallow leaves are either roundish, with rounded lobes, or slightly pointy. Sometimes, even the same plant can have leaves that are shaped pretty differently. The one thing the leaves all have in common is that they all have veins radiating from a central point, with lots of little veins branching off of those veins.

Each leaf generally has a slightly reddish, brownish, or darker colored center where it meets up with its long, stem. There is only one leaf at the edge of each stem, and all those stems branch out from one main stem. When the plants are small, they often look like a rosette on the ground, but as they get bigger, they generally are more upright, almost like a low, wide bush.

Their flowers each have 5 symmetrical petals radiating from one central point. They can be pink, purple, or white (or any combination thereof).
Their seeds grow in a "cheese wheel" formation, with lots of triangle yellow, white, or green segments arranged in a circle.

Mallow leaves can be tiny. They start off close to the size of a dime, and can be picked then. With the right weather conditions, mallow can grow quite large, larger than the size of an average hand. See? Even large enough to cover my 4 year old's entire face.

Mallow and okra are in the same family. Okra is known for being "slimy", or in more official terms, "mucilaginous". Mallow has this same exact property. If you pick a leaf, mash it, and rub it through your fingers, you should be able to feel a moisture there, a slight "sliminess", which should clue you in that you've got the right family of plants.

Mallow leaves and stems are also always mildly fuzzy.

Because of its mucilaginous property, mallow is used in many ways medicinally. Made into tea, it is very soothing for sore throats and coughs and for dealing with other types of inflammation. Made into a poultice and rubbed on the skin, mallow is beneficial for skin irritations or just to moisturize dry skin.

There is one plant, not in the mallow family, that can possibly be mistaken with mallow, and that is ground ivy. The main difference between ground ivy and mallow is that ground ivy, as a member of the mint family, has a square stem (unlike mallow's round stem) and very different looking flowers. But guess what? Even if you do mistake ground ivy for mallow, it's not a big deal, because ground ivy, as a member of the mint family, is edible as well. (Everything in the mint family is edible.)

Eating Mallow
All parts of the mallow plant are edible. Flowers, leaves, seeds, stems, and roots. (Though older parts of the stem can be a bit too fibrous to make for pleasant eating.)

I generally, though, just stick with eating the leaves,as it's easiest.

How do I eat the leaves? How do you prepare them?

Sometimes I eat them raw out of laziness, but since they've got a mild peach fuzziness to them, I prefer them cooked.

You can use mallow as you would any other green like spinach or chard. Their flavor is mild, so they can be paired with pretty much anything.

I like mallow best sauteed in butter with onions and garlic. You can also saute it and put it on pizza, or use it in pasta sauce, or in any other dish where you'd use greens. You can make them into a quiche as well.

Mallow also tastes terrific in soups. I make a soup with it called melokhia, with chicken broth, mallow, onion, garlic, and ground coriander. It is delicious and nutritious and I always run out of it way too quickly. You can also add it to minestrone type soups or any other type of soup really.

I happen to love mallow paired with beans. When I want a quick meal, I defrost some sauteed mallow and precooked white beans, mix it, salt it, add a drop of garlic, then devour it. It is sooo yummy and filling that way!

In Turkey and Greece, larger mallow leaves (like the one that covered my son's face in the above picture) are used to make dolmas or dolmades, generally known in English as "stuffed grape leaves", only this time they're stuffed mallow leaves. Typically they're stuffed with ground meat and rice, but the yummiest way I ever prepared mallow was when I stuffed it with rice, wild fennel, onions, and chopped whole organic oranges (yes, including the peels). I'm getting nostalgic just remembering how awesome those tasted.

One last thing you could do with mallow...

Well, you know marshmallows? Did you know that they originally were made with a type of mallow, the marsh mallow in place of the egg white typically used today?  Here's a recipe for homemade marshmallows using mallow roots (and eggs- I can't find a different recipe that eliminates eggs entirely at the moment).

As for the nutritional benefits- as wild plants growing where nature intended and not in soil stripped of its nutrients, mallow is rich in vitamins and minerals that you won't generally find as concentrated in store bought veggies. Mallow is a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Best of all, they're organic, and they're free!!! Can't beat that!

So, have you ever seen mallow growing in your area? Have you ever tasted mallow? Would you feel confident enough to go and forage mallow after reading this post?
If you've foraged mallow, what is your favorite way to prepare it?
What's the weather there like at the moment? Are you covered in a layer of snow, or are you able to go foraging now if you so desired?

Linking up to Gluten Free Wednesdays, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Real Food Wednesday Monday ManiaHomestead Barn HopMonday MangiaFat TuesdaySimple Lives Thursday


  1. I live on the big island of Hawaii. My pasture if FULL of mallow! I love my mallow with beans, lemon, artichoke, and white beans :)
    Thanks for the great info!

  2. Is there any way to dry and store the seed pod "cheeses" for a long winter time?

  3. Love the page - so much great info! I linked to you from my blog where I posted my own recipe using mallow - 'Mallow Burek'.

  4. the cotton plant is a member of this family and is poisonous heres a link if you want more info http://janiceperson.com/cotton/cotton-101-eat-cotton-cottonseed/


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