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Eat Your Weeds: Small-Flowered Mallow


Photos by Patrick Jones and Meg Ulman

The small-flowered mallow (Malva parviflora L.), is also known as whorled mallow, whorl-flower mallow, ringleaf marshmallow and cheeseweed. It originated in the Mediterranean and south-western Europe, but is considered native to Asia and North Africa too. It has naturalised throughout the world including all states and territories in Australia.


Small-flowered mallow is a hardy, adaptable and temperate climate plant. It now grows in the tropics, tolerates rabbit predation and is naturally tolerant to glyphosate. It is however vulnerable to rust fungus infestation. When growing rigorously, it’s an indicator of fertile soil. Small-flowered mallow is a highly adaptable weed that sprawls or grows erect, up to 1.5 m in height.

The flowers are smaller than other mallow species (hence the name) and each have five pink or white petals. The flowers develop into tiny pumpkin-like green fruits, also referred to as cheeses, which are approximately 6–10 mm in diameter. These dry to become the seeds of the plant. The leaves are round, heart-shaped and soft. Stems, taproot, leaves and fruits are all edible, making this lovely biennial plant a useful contributor to any garden or foraging commons.


Small-flowered mallow has many uses. The seeds or fruits can relieve inflammation or irritation. They have a pleasant nutty flavour and are used to treat stomach ulcers. The plant’s roots and leaves are used to make shampoo, hair softeners and even dandruff treatments. The leaves can be used on sores and boils. They are high in calcium, iron and vitamin C. The leaf extracts contain antioxidant properties and are considered anti-inflammatory with free-radical-scavenging and metal-chelating activities. The plant is used as a medicine to treat tapeworm in South Africa.

The fruits or cheeses are delicious raw in a salad and the youngest leaves can be eaten raw too. By eating these fruits, you mitigate the spread of this plant – disturbing the soil by digging, poisoning or burning creates more opportunities for weeds, whereas eating the reproductive units of a plant limits its development and produces low-impact food.

Although they don’t have a particularly strong flavour, the leaves of small-flowered mallow make a lovely cooked vegetable. Steam the leaves to soften them, strain, then drizzle with olive oil, salt and raw garlic to produce a simple neo-peasant dish, or cook as part of a stir-fry with peppers, wakame and rice. The young tip leaves can be included in a salad with the soft, nutty cheese rounds (the little green fruits), which although can be fiddly to harvest are well worth the patience. The taproots are washed and prepared with other root vegetables and best cooked in abattoir-free animal fat, particularly duck.

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