COMMON MALLOW (Malva sylvestris)

The common mallow is another plant of the roadsides and waste ground in general. It grows to 2 to 3 feet, but is often of a rather sprawling habit. The leaves are rounded, palmate and crinkly. The flowers appear at any time from June through to October; the five petals are notched and are of a variable pink, with deeper-coloured veins.

Among its many local names are Fairy Cheeses and Bread and Cheese, because of its small round seeds, which country children would pick and eat (the flavour, however, is not cheese-like, but is described as nutty). Mallow leaves are edible and may be cooked like spinach. They are glutinous and are probably better used in making soup. In fact, a similar species is the basis of a popular traditional soup in Egypt. It appears that the Romans ate the leaves, flowers and seeds, and may have cultivated the mallow as a food plant.

Another species of mallow, the musk mallow (M. moschata), is less common in our part of Northamptonshire. It is similar, but with larger paler pink flowers and deeply cut leaves. It is often found in gardens; there is an attractive white form. The mallow family also includes the garden hollyhock.

Mallow in the verge of Helmdon Road

Text by George Metcalfe. Photos by Colin Wootton.