Mallow, Common

:Edible Plants
:Medicinal Herbs
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Scientific Name: Malva sylvestris
Family: Malvaceae
Also known as: Mallow, high mallow, French Hollyhock, tree Mallow, tall Mallow, cheeses
Habitat: Waste ground, field verges and roadsides, avoiding acid soils. Most of Europe, including Britain.
Description: Malva sylvestris is a species of the mallow genus Malva in the family of Malvaceae and is considered to be the type species for the genus. It can be straight or decumbent, branched, and covered with fine soft hairs or none at all.
M. sylvestris is a vigorous plant with showy flowers of bright mauve-purple, with dark veins, standing 0.9–1.2 m high and growing freely in meadows, hedgerows and in fallow fields.
Identifying Features:

  • Leaves – The leaves are borne upon the stem, are roundish, with numerous lobes, each 2–45 cm long, 5–10 cm in diameter. The leaves have hairs radiating from a common centre, with prominent veins on the underside.
  • Flowers – Described as reddish-purple, bright pinkish-purple with dark stripes and bright mauve-purple, the flowers of Malva sylvestris appear in axillary clusters of 2 to 4 and form irregularly and elongated along the main stem with the flowers at the base opening first.

M. sylvestris has an epicalyx (or false calyx) with oblong segments, two-thirds as long as calyx or 2–3 mm long and 1.5 mm wide. Its calyx is free to the middle, 3–6 mm long, with broadly triangular lobes or ovate mostly 5–7 mm long. The flowers are 2–4 times as long as the calyx.

  • Fruit – Nutlets strongly reticulate (10–12 mericarps, usually without hair, with sharp angle between dorsal and lateral surfaces, 5–6 mm in diameter.
  • Seeds – Also called ‘cheeses,’ seeds are brown to brownish green when ripe, about 2.5 mm long and wide, 5 to 7 mm in diameter and are shaped like a cheese wheel.
  • Pictures throughout the year




    • Leaves – raw or cooked. Mucilaginous with a mild pleasant flavour, they are nice in soups where they act as a thickener. The young leaves also make a very acceptable substitute for lettuce in a salad. The leaves are a tea substitute
    • Immature seed – raw. Used as a nibble, the seeds have a nice nutty flavour but are too fiddly for most people to want to gather in quantity.
    • Flowers – raw. Added to salads or used as a garnish. A pleasant mild flavour, with a similar texture to the leaves, they make a pleasant and pretty addition to the salad bowl.


    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 they can be taken internally in the treatment of respiratory system diseases and problems with the digestive tract. When combined with eucalyptus it makes a god remedy for coughs and other chest ailments. Mallow has similar properties, but is considered to be inferior to the marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) and are seldom used internally. The plant is an excellent laxative for young children.


    The leaves are used to relieve insect bites and stings. A fibre obtained from the stems is useful for cordage, textiles and paper making.

    Gav Notes

    The French word for common mallow is ‘mauve des bois’ (meaning mallow of the woods), which is where we get the word for the colour mauve from.

    Known hazards

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


    The leaves can be used fresh whenever they are available or can be harvested in the spring and dried for later use. The flowers are harvested in the summer and can be dried for later use.

    Potential lookalikes

    Similar species from the same genus, including tree mallow (M. dendromorpha), musk mallow (M. moschata), dwarf mallow (M. neglecta), small mallow (M. pusilla). All similar food and medicinal uses.
    Blog post

    • Tree & Plant ID Course from Foundation Bushcraft –
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