Mallow – characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effects

Mallow - blossoms
Mallow - blossoms

The wild mallow and the dwarf mallow are well-known medicinal plants that have been used since antiques for many ailments. Today, mallows are often perceived as weeds, but this is unjustified. The plant, also known as cheeseweed, contains valuable mucins and is an excellent herb against coughing, flu infections and inflammation of the mouth and throat.

Profile of Mallow:

Scientific name: Malva sylvestris

Plant family: mallow family, cotton family

Other names: malva, maule, cheeseweed, cheeseplant, buttonweed, Creeping Charlie

Sowing time / Planting time: March- May

Flowering period: June – September

Harvest time: July – September

Location: sunny to full sun

Soil quality: nutrient rich and humus rich soils

Use as a medicinal herb: flu infections, ulcers, stomach upset, heartburn, hemorrhoids

Use as spice herb: salads

Plant characteristics and classification of Mallow

If one speaks of the mallow today, either the wild mallow (Malva sylvestris) or the common mallow (Malva neglecta) is meant. This herbal portrait is mostly about the wild mallow, as it occurs as a medicinal and culinary herb much more often than the common mallow.

Origin and distribution of the mallow

The wild mallow is today a widespread plant that can be found in many European countries today up to the subtropical zones of the northern hemisphere. Originally from southern Eurasia, this species of mallow was gradually adventived further north. Mallows are now commonly found wild in Europe, the United States, eastern Australia and Canada as well as in Northern Africa and up to Middle Asia and China.

Wild mallows such as common mallows can be found on roadsides, dumps, on houses walls, on slopes and on and around the edges of agricultural fields. Sometimes mallows can also be found in urban areas on house walls.

Plant order of Malva sylvestris

Mallows are almost autonomous in botany. They form both their own plant order and their own plant family. Interestingly, the cocoa (Theobroma cacao) or the baobab tree belong to the mallow family. Both the wild mallow (Malva sylvestris) and the common mallow (Malva neglecta) belong to the genus Malva, which contains between 20 and 30 species. Native to Europe and southwestern Asia more frequently also the musk mallow (Malva moschata) and occasionally the small mallow (Malva pusilla) are found. Those become however hardly possible for a use as a medicinal herb.

Although often cultivated as ornamental plants are species of annual mallow or royal. Those belong to of the mallow family, but do not belong to the genus of the mallows. The same applies to the hibiscus, which are often offered as mallow.

Characteristics of the mallow


The wild mallow is usually a two- to multi-year-old plant that reaches stature heights between 40 and 140 cm (15 and 55 inches). Generally, the wild mallow grows upright. In the ground, it is anchored with a spindle-shaped root. At the end the rhizome has a few, but larger secondary roots, which usually occupy about a quarter of the size of the main root.


The leaves are usually five-lobed and are alternate on the stem. The leaves are usually up to 7 cm (2.75 inches) long and up to 6 cm (2.4 inches) wide. As wells as stems and both sides of the leaves are densely hairy. Besides, the leaves of wild mallow and common mallow are very similar and hardly distinguishable from each other externally.


The flowering time is expected between early June and mid-September. There, the common mallow forms up to 5 cm (2 inches) large flower heads, which may be blue, purple to pink colored. The flowers grow in the axils of the leaves. The flowers themselves count each 5 petals and sepals and three bracts. The petals are each notched on the outer edge and have a striking grain on the surface. The flowers of the wild mallow (Malva sylvestris) and the common mallow (Malva neglecta) are hermaphrodite. Incidentally, the flower color of common mallow is usually white to pale pink, which is an essential distinguishing feature compared to the wild mallow.


During ripening, it forms so-called split fruits, which are between 8 and 12 mm (0.3 and 0.5 inches) long. Each schizocarp contains up to 12 seeds (nuts), which are dark brown to almost black.

wild mallow - plant with blossoms
wild mallow – plant with blossoms

Mallow – cultivation, sowing and care

If wild mallow and common mallow grow in an optimal location, the care of the insect-loving plant is very easy.


The ideal location for the mallow is sunny to full sun with nutrient-rich, humus-rich and rather calcareous soils. Loamy or heavier soils are preferred, however, mallows also grow in slightly sandy soils.


The cultivation is best done by sowing, which should take place between mid-March and mid-May. The seeds can be incorporated directly in the field or in a deeper plant pot or bucket. In the field, a planting distance of at least 40 cm (15 inches) should be maintained to the next plant. The seeds themselves should be pressed about 1 cm (0.4 inches) into the ground and covered with earth, since it is a dark germinator. Using sowing soil nothing special has to be considered. After about 10 to 14 days, the seedlings should rise.


Mallows can grow quite large, are quite hungry plants and are considered heavy feeder (plants with high nutrient requirements). An optimal nutrient supply with a good organic fertilizer is therefore required all year round. Optimal are nitrogen-stressed fertilizer. Also horse or cattle manure, horn shavings or compost are well suited. Pure mineral fertilizers should be avoided, since these usually contain too high nutrient amounts of potassium and phosphorus and are unable to build up humus. In the field fertilization is sufficient between 6 and 8 weeks, depending on the type of fertilizer, insofar as the plant has reached a stature height of about 40 cm (15 inches). Pot cultures should be fertilized every 3 to 5 weeks. Here liquid ready-to-use herbal fertilizers is being completely sufficient.


In the field, the plant does not need to be watered frequently. In normal weather conditions, the mallow will get along well with short-term dryness. For long-lasting sunny days without rain, the bed should, however, be poured vigorously. Pot cultures must be watered more often, as the water in the soil evaporates much faster. Depending on the size should be poured every 6 to 10 days. On very sunny and hot days, it may be necessary to water every two to three days.


Wild mallow and common mallow are considered hardy and tolerate frosts down to -18 ° C (0 °F). In autumn (and also in spring) all dead plant parts should be removed.

Diseases and pests

Mallows are considered a very robust plant. In bad soil conditions or long-term unfavorable weather (a lot of rain, little sun), the herb can be attacked by the mallow-rust. The mallow-rust is a so-called basidiomycetes, which is noticeable by brownish to rust brown round pustules on the leaves. When infested with the fungus, the respective leaves and adjacent plant parts should be removed and treated with a biological fungicide. Be sure to pick up removed leaves from the ground and dispose them as household waste (not on the compost pile). In large-scale infestation, the entire plant should be removed so as not to infest adjacent mallows.

Common are holes in the leaves. Responsible is a small insect called mallow flea beetle, which prefers mallows and hollyhocks. The beetle is usually up to 5 mm (0.2 inches) long and usually quickly detect by its yellow-red head and dark blue wing coverlets. Mostly, these pests do not become dangerous to the plant. However, over-propagation may require rapid action. Biological alternatives can be done with kieselguhr powder or neem.

mallow - flower
Mallow – flower

Mallow and its use

Mallow as a kitchen herb

Although the mallow may be only known by a few as a kitchen herb, it is still edible and usable. In earlier times, young leaves of the herb were used in salads. Today, the leaves are likely to appreciate very few people The mucins of the mallow are quite noticeable and act on many rather deterrent. However, it is quite worthwhile to try the young leaves, as they are very mild and have a surprisingly pleasant taste.

In some southern European countries, e.g. in Spain or Italy, mallow leaves are also cooked or even fried.

Some beverage companies process mallow flowers in soft drinks, usually with pear or lemon balm. However, it is not clear whether the mallow advertised there is the real mallow or just the hibiscus.

Mallow as a medicinal herb

Use of the mallow in antiquity and the Middle Ages

Mallows have been an integral part of the medicine of Roman and Greek physicians since antiquity. Roman doctor Dioscorides recommended drinking Malva juice daily in order to be prepared for all sorts of illnesses. In herbal books, numerous complaints and illnesses have been treated with mallow. If one rummages in old herbal books, one must know that the plant in the Middle Ages was misleadingly called as poplar or Roman poplar.

At that time, mallow was a universally used medicinal plant that was used for both internal and external complaints. For example, a daily juice of sage was drunk for a general well-being that protects against all sorts of illnesses. Roots, seeds and leaves were boiled in milk or wine and among others recommended against diseases of the lungs or even for tuberculosis. It was also used in the form of medicinal wine or as a tea in combination with fennel and anise as a herb for stomach and intestinal complaints,

Externally, the mallow was used for the treatment of skin ulcers, in which case the herb and the seeds of the plant were mixed with milk and applied to the skin. Recommended for mouth ulcer and canker were mallow flower, which were first boiled in wine or water and mixed with alum (an aluminum sulfate). The mixture was gargled or used as a mouthwash. Even as a countermeasure against snake bites, it was used: mallows were mixed together with onions and chives, crushed and laid on the respective wound.

Today’s medical use of mallow

The main use of the mallow is in the treatment of cold symptoms and inflammation in the throat and mouth. In particular, the mucins contained make up the curative effect of the herb.

However, mallow is also used for numerous other complaints and diseases. As it also contains tannins and essential oils in addition to mucins, it has the following effects on our organism:

  • soothing
  • mucosal protective
  • antibacterial
  • anti-inflammatory

For healing purposes, the flowers are used, more rarely the leaves. In most cases, the medicinal herb is handed in the form of mallow tea. Tinctures, macerates (cold extracts) and ointments are being used only occasionally.

In naturopathy and homeopathy mallow flowers and leaves are mainly used for the following complaints.

  • intestinal ulcer
  • diarrhea
  • colds or flu infections
  • hemorrhoids
  • cough
  • gastritis
  • stomach ulcers
  • mouth and throat infections
  • heartburn
  • wound treatment

Occasionally wound treatments with fresh leaves are recommended, but these are no longer acceptable today. There is a risk of secondary infections as the surface of the mallow can be contaminated with foreign bacteria.

Preparation of mallow tea

For the preparation of a mallow tea, 1.5 to 2 teaspoons of mallow flowers should be spilled with 250 ml (8.5 fl oz) of hot water. After a steeping time of about 8 to 10 minutes, the tea is drunk in short sips. The tea can be mixed with a good honey (for example fennel honey). Such a tea is drunk especially for flu-like infections with a dry, tight cough. Occasionally, the tea is drunk with other herbs such as buckhorn, cowslip or sage. Two to three cups a day are recommended, but these are taken for a maximum of seven to eight days.

In addition to a hot tea also macerates (cold water extracts) are prepared from mallow, which are mostly used for inflammation in the mouth and throat. For this purpose, add 1.5 to 2 teaspoons its flowers or leaves with 250 ml (8.5 fl oz) of lukewarm water and leave for 7 to 9 hours. After straining the herbs, the maceration can be drunk or gargled.

Side effects

Basic side effects are not known, as far as the tea is taken within the usual recommendations.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Mallow – What is there to pay attention to?

Some gardeners value wild mallow and common mallow as ornamental plants in their garden. Also people who know about the health-promoting properties of the plant, cultivate it as a medicinal herb in the garden or balcony. If you want to plant mallow, you have the choice between fresh plants or seeds. For the preparation of teas or macerates, there are also numerous specialty shops that already offer dried flowers and leaves. When buying mallow plants and products, however, take a close look.

If you want to buy fresh mallows, which are sometimes offered in plant centers and also on markets, you should examine the leaves carefully. If there are small white or larger reddish-brown pustules on the top or bottom of the leaves, the plants suffer from the mallow-rust. You should refrain from buying in the same store because spores have already spread to other mallow plants.

Seeds are offered by many producers, although usually only the wild mallow. Since these are not rarities, the prices are usually very cheap.

Basically, you should always pay attention to the botanical name, insofar you want to cultivate wild mallow (Malva sylvestris) or common mallow (Malva neglecta). In trade, other mallow species such as annual mallow or royal mallow are usually offered as mallow. Although they belong to the same plant family, but not to the same genus.

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