Mallow is considered to be any one of the versatile, flowering, perennial plants of the Malvaceae family. The herb not only adds a sweet taste to culinary dishes but also has medicinal and skin benefits.
There are many species of mallow but the most popular by far is Althaea officinalis, also known as common marshmallow. According to Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung, mallow grows best in open meadows close to ponds, lakes or streams. The herb grows up to four feet tall and, depending on the species, has beautiful pale pink, blue or rose colored flowers. Its hairy leaves feel soft to the touch.
Mallow is a hearty herb that grows in sun or shade and well-drained soil. When planting, space plants at least one foot apart in loamy soil. Flowers and leaves can be harvested and used as needed, while roots should be harvested in the spring or fall.
Mallow's flowers are gorgeous and taste sweet, making them a great option for topping cakes or garnishing baked goods, desserts and salads.
According to Homegrown Herbs, in the late 1800's marshmallow's roots were cooked with sugar and whipped to create the first marshmallows. Although conventional marshmallows are no longer made this way, you can still make your own marshmallows using mallow root. The roots may also be roasted or boiled as a side dish or used to make a soothing herbal tea.
The leaves of the mallow plant can be added to green salads or sauteed with a little olive oil as a side dish. They also may be used to make teas, salves, poultices and tinctures.
Mallow has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center's (UMM) website, mallow roots and leaves contain high levels of mucilage, a gummy compound that forms a gel when mixed with water. This compound is believed to coat and soothe irritated mucous membranes including those of the bronchial tract, throat and stomach. UMM suggests mallow may help relieve the following conditions:
- Cold symptoms
- Sore throat
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Mallow is believed to have strong anti-inflammatory properties, and the Reader's Digest Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs states that the herb is used topically to soothe eczema and other skin conditions. A mallow root infusion can be used in a poultice or balm as a burn remedy or muscle pain reliever.
The herb may be found in lotions that moisturize and heal the skin. You can also use fresh or powdered mallow to make your own skin cleansers or salves.
According to UMM, mallow is considered to be generally safe and has no reported side effects. However, they also mention that one study showed the herb to lower blood sugar levels. It's important to consult your doctor or a qualified natural health practitioner before using mallow to treat a medical condition, especially if you have diabetes, are pregnant or nursing.
Use with extreme caution if you take lithium as mallow may increase the amount of lithium in the body.
If you'd like to enjoy the benefits of fresh mallow by growing your own, you can usually find the plants at your local nursery or garden center in the spring (or year-round if you live in a warm climate). Visit your local natural health store to find mallow tea or dried mallow. In addition, the following online retailers offer mallow products:
- Pure Formulas sells a one ounce bottle of marshmallow root extract by Natures Answer for $9.33 (shipping is included).
- You can buy organic marshmallow leaf products from Mountain Rose Herbs. Prices start around $300 plus shipping.
- Penn Herb Company sells blue mallow leaves and flowers. Prices start at $7.90 plus shipping for one ounce of cut flowers.
A Delicious, Versatile Herb
Whether its roots are used in a soothing skin cream, or its flowers are adorning a wedding cake or sweetening your salad, there's little doubt mallow is a versatile herb. It's easy to grow and harvest and offers many benefits to anyone interested in cooking with nutritious, fresh herbs. It also makes a great addition to any natural remedy arsenal.