Thursday 5 October 2017


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. Known as common mallow to English-speaking Europeans, it acquired the common names of cheeses, high mallow and tall mallow (mauve des bois by the French) as it migrated from its native home in Western Europe, North Africa and Asia through the English-speaking world. M. sylvestris is a vigorously healthy plant with showy flowers of bright mauve-purple, with dark veins; a handsome plant, often standing 1 m high and growing freely in fields, hedgerows and in fallow fields.

Malva sylvestris is a spreading herb, which is an annual in North Africa, biennial in the Mediterranean and a perennial elsewhere. It is about one meter tall, with a growth habit which can be straight or decumbent, branched and covered with fine soft hairs or none at all, M. sylvestris is pleasing in appearance when it first starts to flower, but as the summer advances, the leaves lose their deep green colour and the stems assume a ragged appearance.

The leaves are borne upon the stem, are roundish, and have three to seven, or five to nine shallow lobes, each 2 to 4 centimetres long, 2 to 5 centimetres wide and 5 to 10 centimetres in diameter. Downy, with hairs radiating from a common centre and prominent veins on the underside. Petiole either 2 to 6 centimetres or 2 to 13 centimetres long.

The flowers are reddish-purple, bright pinkish-purple with dark stripes or bright mauve-purple, and 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 millimetres long and 1.5 millimetres wide. Its calyx is free to the middle, 3–6 millimetres long, with broadly triangular lobes or ovate mostly 5–7 millimetres long. The flowers are 2–4 times as long as the calyx. Petals are wrinkly to veined on the backs, more than 20 millimetres long or 15 to 25 millimetres long and 1 centimetre wide, egg-shaped, margin notched with a fringe of hairlike projections. Slender flower stalks that are either 2 centimetres long or 1 to 3 centimetres long. Ten broad carpels in axillary clusters; stamen about 3 millimetres long, radiating from the centre with short soft hairs.

In distribution as a native Malva sylvestris spreads itself on waste and rough ground, by roads and railways throughout lowland England, Wales and Channel Islands, Siberia and scattered elsewhere. It has been introduced to and has become naturalised in eastern Australia, in the United States, Canada and Mexico probably escaped from cultivation.

M. sylvestris has been used medicinally since ancient times, and is still used in modern phytotherapy. Mucilage is present in many of the Malvaceae family including M. sylvestris, especially the fruit. The seeds are used internally in a decoction or herbal tea as a demulcent and diuretic, and the leaves made into poultices as an emollient for external applications. Mallow can also be taken internally for its laxative effect. In 1931 Maud Grieve wrote that the "use of this species of Mallow has been much superseded by Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis), which possesses its valuable properties in a superior degree, but it is still a favourite remedy with country people where Marsh Mallow is not obtainable."

The plant is edible and nutritious as food. The young leaves when boiled is a wholesome vegetable and was eaten in several parts of Europe in the 19th century. It is still used as such in Turkey, Greece and Southern Italy. The young tender tops and leaves are stewed with other herbs and wild greens and used with spinach to make pie fillings (see here).

In the language of flowers, a stem of non-flowering mallow conveys the meaning "you soothe my wild temper". A flowering stem indicates: "You are of mild manner and gentle demeanour".

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme.


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