The plant can be an annual, winter annual, or biennial, and is easily recognized by its geranium-like leaves that have five or seven lobes. Some have deeper lobes while others are nearly round.
In his book Natural History, Pliny the Elder asserted that mallow was an aphrodisiac, and when the seeds were sprinkled “for the treatment of women,” they stimulated sexual desire to “an infinite degree.”
Mallow is indeed edible, but it isn’t the most exciting leafy green you can forage from your yard. It has a mild, almost nonexistent flavor, and that probably works to its advantage.
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.
The leaves 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!)