Mallow plants are in the Malvaceae plant family. The most famous member of the family is probably the marsh mallow, Althea officinalis, which inspired the white, sugary marshmallow treat that is in many sweets. Several types of mallows produce cup-like, colorful flowers. The mallow plant family contains many cultivars that produce flowers in a wide range of colors.
Marsh mallow, Althaea officinalis, is also known as common marshmallow. The plant is native to Europe and grows without cultivation in marshes, meadows, ditches and anywhere with moist soil. Plant common mallow seeds in sring to grow it in the garden. The stems of the plant die down each fall before growing again in spring. Common mallow has pink, cup-like flowers with ruffled edges.
"Blue mallow," Malva sylvestris, is not named after its flowers. The blue mallow produces purplish blooms on top of thick, round stems that reach 3 to 4 feet high. "Musk mallow," Malva meshata, grows in dry soil. The stems are usually hairy, with purple spots all over them. Rose-colored flowers blossom on top of the mottled stems, which grow about 2 feet high. The musk mallow is named for the musky aroma it produces, which emits from the leaves of the plant. "Dwarf mallow," Malva rotundifolia, has lilac flowers and heart-shaped leaves. "Wax mallow," Malvaviscus arboreus, produces red flowers.
Mallow plants have been used as food for hundred of years. The Romans used it as a vegetable. Chinese and Egyptian cooks also used the plant. Mallow is more commonly used medicinally. The leaves, roots and flowers are used to treat respiratory and urinary infections. Mallow is used to treat coughs and congestion, along with other respiratory ailments. Every part of plants mallow is edible and non-toxic.
Mallow plants are perennial and self-seed to grow and bloom every year. Since mallows grow quickly and without cultivation in many areas, some of the plants are considered to be invasive. Little mallow, Malva parviflora and Malva neglecta exhibit invasive characteristics. Control invasive mallow plants with herbicides and mechanical (hand-pulling) methods.
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