July Foraging: Tree Mallow

Sprinklings for your summer salads

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Hayley Bisofsky Pope
Cornwall dweller, lifestyle blogger and founder of The Little Naturalists Club
28 June 2022

As you wonder the coastal path in mid summer you may begin to notice two metre tall isolated bushes with large geranium like leaves and medium sized purplely pink flowers. These plants are tree mallow and they’re a handy plant to get to know.

A familiar sweet snack

They belong to the Malvaceae family which includes the ornamental hollyhock plant, the hibiscus tea plant and marsh mallow, where the worlds favourite camp fire treat marshmallows comes from.

Mallows grows all over the world and there are naturalised species on every continent. On most continents they are regarded as a weed but Hollyhock has managed to make its way into our gardens as a prized flower which is often forgotten about as an edible.

Identification

Mallow is easy to identify by the flower and leaves. It’s an annual/biannual plant that tends to stand above most other shrubs in its natural habitat and you’ll find it all along the coastal path, near the high tide zone and often around the perimeters of beach car parks. The leaves are shallowly lobed with 5-7 lobes.

The stems are hairy and the leaves have a sightly velvet feel. The flowers are bright purple/deep pink and contain five petals that usually recurve backwards slightly and have darker veins running through the centre of the flower.

Putting to use

Since as early as the third century, BCE mallow has been recorded as an important source for food and medicine. Tree mallow (Malva Arborea) comes from the Greek malakos which means “soft” and refers to the softening properties of this herb that has been used for thousands of years as an anti inflammatory, slightly laxative and soothing medicine.

It was originally recommended to regulate the intestines but can be applied to many cases when inflammation has occurred.

In the kitchen

In modern life tree mallow is used in cuisine around the world. In Greece they stuff the leaves a little like they do with grape vine leaves and make dolmades. In Palestine and Israel they get out of their cars on the road side and gather enough of this plant into baskets to make lunch.

They will sauté it with olive oil, onions, salt, lemon juice and chilli and turn it into a kind of herby jam which they serve with bread, yoghurt and green olives. It is truly delicious. In Syria it’s used in soups and in Italy its purѐed and turned into a soup with potatoes and onions.

Give it a try!

Next time you walk past tree mallow I highly recommend that at a minimum you pinch a few flowers and adorn a summer salad with them.

If you’re feeling braver maybe give the Israeli / Palestinian way of serving the the leaves a go.