Mallow: the everywhere edible weed
Garden of Eatin', You Can Eat That?!

Mallow: The Everywhere Edible Weed

Every spring, the first signs of life in my mulch (and everywhere else in my garden and neighborhood) are these ubiquitous weeds. You probably have them too. They invade lawns, landscapes, parkways, parking lots, drainage ditches, and all nooks and crannies when the weather is cool and damp.

Here in Los Angeles where our winters are mild, they start popping up in November or December if we’ve had some early rains. They usually appear in neglected areas and it doesn’t take long for a few plants to overrun a plot. With deep woody taproots and a fast growing habit, they’re often considered invasive.

Mallow is a much maligned weed to gardeners who feel the same disdain for dandelions. But did you know this common weed is actually edible?

Ladybug on little mallow

Common mallow (Malva neglecta — how appropriately named) and little mallow (Malva parviflora) belong to the same family of plants as marshmallow and hibiscus. (Speaking of marshmallow, the confection eaten today was originally made from the sap of the roots of mallow grown in marshes, hence the name. Though candy makers now use gelatin in place of the sap, the name has stuck since the early 1800s when it was introduced to France.)

The plant is easily recognizable by its geranium-like leaves with five or seven lobes. Some have deeper lobes while others are nearly round.

Cheeseweed grows in disturbed soil

Cheeseweed has geranium-like leaves

Its flowers seem small and drab compared to its dramatic display of leaves, which look their best in winter and spring when the ground is moist.

Flowers on cheeseweed plant

Mallow flowers

The entire mallow plant is edible

Mallow is sometimes called cheeseweed, and if you look closely at its fruiting head, it resembles a miniature wheel of cheese with wedge-shaped sections.

Common mallow fruits

Fruiting seed head on mallow plant

Mallow fruits that give it the name of cheeseweed

It doesn’t taste like cheese, however. While mallow is edible, it isn’t the most exciting green you can forage from your yard. It has a mild, almost nonexistent flavor, and that probably works to its advantage. Like tofu, it just takes on the flavor of everything else in your bowl.

So why would you eat it? For starters, mallow is highly nutritious. The plant is exceptionally rich in vitamins A, B, and C, along with calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The tender young leaves actually have one of the highest amounts of vitamin A in any vegetable.

They also have a mucilaginous quality, similar to okra, and can be used to thicken soups and stews. (I’m personally waiting for the next round of mallow to spring up in my garden so I can try it in my gumbo!) When using the leaves raw, I like to mix mallow into a bed of other salad greens to counter that slight viscous texture. You can’t really tell once it’s dressed and tossed with your favorite salad accouterments — or you might even like it as-is in its raw, natural state.

Tender young mallow leaves

The whole plant is edible — root, stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits. I’ve only tried the last three. The flowers have the same nondistinctive flavor of the leaves, while the fruits are pleasant and a little nutty (make sure to pick them when they’re still fresh and green).

I’ll admit that I don’t go out of my way to forage for mallow, but it’s fun to find in my garden because it’s essentially free food. I like to add a few leaves of this wild weed to a spring salad once in a while (along with my other favorite weeds, nasturtiums and dandelions).

That is, if my chickens don’t get to it first.

Chickens like mallow too

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  • Lucinda Sutherland

    Oh, fun. Thanks for sharing this. Just last summer we were teaching the toddling grandchildren to pick the fruits on this plant. My daughters used to eat them when they were little, too. The kids enjoy finding something in the garden that they can pick at will. I’m glad to know that they can eat the rest of the plant, too. I will have to try harvesting some along with dandelion leaves. I’ve always been concerned that the dandelions would be too strongly flavored so I’m glad to know that I also have an abundant source of a bland leaf to work into the salad.

    • My 1-year-old also loves to toddle around the garden, looking for things to pick and eat! It’s a blast watching her light up with all that joy and curiosity!

      Dandelions tend to be milder when they’re young, so I recommend picking them when the leaves are super tender and only a few inches long.

  • Grateful Patient

    Thank you so much for solving the mystery of the crazy plant that “ate” or maybe that should be “strangled” our volunteer tomato and is now trying to “eat” the back corner of our house! We’ve yet to try and eat the leaves but good to know we can give it a try.

  • Patricia M. Bieber

    So thankful for your excellent photographs and clear explanations. These are lovely flowers worth pressing. Just discovered a new friend at a garage sale who had the lovely ‘zebra mallow’ along the side of her little house. Years ago she bought a planter arrangement for her mom and seeds just dispersed and have been producing ever since; and they neve tire of seeing their cheery little faces. I now have seed balls to grow my own, leaves and flowers to press, and plan to make a couple of bookmarks with these lovelies for the lady and her mother.

  • Dianna

    Thanks for this great article! I just had some mallow in a green smoothie today, and I look forward to eating more of it, since it seems to like my garden.

  • Elan

    In Israel it is called “Chubeza” and my cousin an I would collect the leaves, tear them up, mix with egg, flour, chopped onions, salt and pepper. We made thin patties and fried them in a pan with some oil. They are delicious! Like leafy, crispy, potato pancakes.

  • zetta

    Thanks for this. I hadn’t thought about mallow in years. It grew wild in my yard in NM but with orange flowers.

  • Peggy Zortman

    Mallow! We grow them as flowers. Now I need to run out and see if this is what is growing in front of the barn. You teach me something new every post!

  • Sally Landon

    I had no idea this was a mallow, nor that you could eat the whole plant. When I was a kid we called the little round, nutty fruits “bread and butters”….I have no idea why. My brother and I grazed like little goats all through the lawn searching for these treasures. I thought they were the yummiest treat all season.

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