(Malva, Althaea, and Hibiscus species— Family Malvaceae)
Mallow, common mallow, marsh mallow, whorled mallow
This family has an intriguing variety of members:
and marsh mallow
Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) surprises many when they try to relate the spongy confection to a green-leafed plant.
This European shrub grows sporadically around salt marshes, damp meadows, and tidal rivers. It used to be plentiful, but now, rarely seen.
The “marshmallow” confection
was originally made from the plant’s roots, and still is in some parts of Europe. All mallows exude a soft mucilage; and, in the case of marsh mallow, it was the base for the candy.
The soft, crumpled, serrated, scalloped leaves of several mallows are used as greens. The ancient Greeks and Romans were especially fond of them, as are the people of the Middle East, and Far East. Some Europeans today who use both the wild and cultivated forms.
The greens have also become established in Mexico, where it was introduced by the Europeans. It is also believed to be one of the most important vegetables in ancient China and cultivated today in clumps in among other plants.
The main native oriental species are the flat-leaved M. verticillata
and M. crispa,
which have crisp, puckered leaves, and sold in bunches in Oriental markets. Most Westeners use them only in salads, but they have a wonderful taste and texture when used in soups.
When raw, the small, stringy leaves are more geranium-like with their fuzziness. When cooked, they turn meltingly into a soft, slick, billowy body with a gentle, freshly “green” flavour.