Mallow is a biennial or perennial aromatic plant that is generally covered with hair. The herb usually grows up to a height of three feet when mature. The mounting soft stems of mallow develop long-stemmed velvety heart or kidney shaped leaves that are alternately arranged. The mallow leaves are always profoundly lobed (a rounded segment on a leaf that is not divided all the way to the midrib). The herb blossoms between May and August and has purple-pink colored flowers which are about two inches in diameter with veined petals. The fruits of the mallow bear a resemblance to compressed discs and hence some people also call them 'cheese flower'.
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Interestingly, an ancient Roman poet, who was well-known for his self-indulging practices, considered the high mallow to be a healing agent beneficial for getting rid of the repercussions of orgies (gatherings where a group of people indulge in uncontrolled sexual activity). Pliny, a contemporary of the above mentioned poet who practiced herbal medicine during the first century A.D., asserted that ingestion of a drink prepared from the mallow seed along with the extracts of creepers helped in curing nausea (an unsettling feeling in the stomach that accompanies the urge to vomit). Mallow's medicinal properties were acclaimed by naturalists even later. During the 16th century herbal practitioners in Italy considered the high mallow to be an 'omnimorbia' meaning a medicine that could cure all ailments. Although the comment may appear to be exaggerated, it was also a fact that high mellow served various therapeutic purposes for them.
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Mallow's repute as a 'cure-all' medicine in the earlier times was owing to the fact that the herb, particularly its roots, encloses substantial quantity of mucilage (a glue-like substance secreted by some plants that are rich in protein and carbohydrates). Owing to the high presence of this jelly-like substance in mallow, rural herbal practitioners recommended the herb to heal digestive and urinary tract swellings and irritations (inflammations). However, mallow is more popular for its therapeutic qualities of relieving the mucous membranes lining the upper respiratory system, particularly when suffering from colds. In addition, the mucilage present in mallow also has the ability to control coughs set off by irritation or inflammation. Mallow is popular even today and is beneficial in healing several other ailments. For example, American Indians as well as modern herbal practitioners recommend using poultices (moist substances applied to injuries) prepared from the herb or its derivatives to alleviate pain or soreness from insect stings as well as swellings in the body.
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Leaves, flowers, root.
Compared to the ordinary mallow, the marsh mallow has more medicinal values. Nevertheless, even the common mallow has effectual soothing properties and is generally used to relieve irritated or inflamed skin or mucous membranes. Both the leaves as well as the flowers of mallow have soothing or softening effect on the skin, particularly in the susceptible areas. Poultices prepared with mallow are effectively used to diminish swellings and throw out the toxins from the affected parts. Ingestion of mallow, i.e. in form of infusion and tincture prepared from the herb leaves alleviate burning inflammation and also helps in promoting bowel movements. The ordinary mallow blended with eucalyptus gives rise to an amalgam that is highly effectual in healing coughs and other chest ailments. Root of the mallow is effective in relieving problems arising during teething and hence can be administered to children.
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Infusions and tinctures prepared from mallow may be used to help in the recuperating processes. They are highly effectual in healing gastritis and stomach ulcers, laryngitis and pharyngitis, upper respiratory catarrh (inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially in the nose or throat) and even bronchitis. Mallow may also be added to bath water to cure skin ailments as well as for glowing skin. It may also be used as a compress to cure abscesses, boils and trivial burns.
The ordinary mallow plant grows naturally in Europe as well as Asia. However, presently even the Americans and Australians have adopted this herb and can be found growing in the open areas like roadsides and even on enclosures and fences in the Americas as well as Australasia. The leaves of mallow are collected in spring, and the herb's flowers during summer.
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Chemical analysis of the ordinary or common mallow has shown that it contains flavonol glycosides that includes gossypin-3-sulfate, mucilage as well as tannins. The purplish-pink colored flowers of the herb also enclose an anthocyanin (a water-soluble pigment that produces blue, violet, and red colors in plants) known as malvin.
Similar to the marsh mallow (Althea officinalis), another member of the same family, leaves and flowers of the common mallow are rich in mucilage content. It may be mentioned here that mucilage is composed of compound carbohydrates and provides mallow with most of its comforting properties. In fact, the flavonoids as well as anthocyanidins play a crucial role in offering the soothing properties to mallow. Herbal medicine practitioners consider mallow to be an effectual demulcent - a comforting agent that helps in alleviating irritations, swellings and minor inflammations. Significantly, the German Commission E has accepted the use of both the mallow leaves as well as flowers to treat sore throats and dry coughs. In such cases, mallow is generally used as a tea or gargle.
Studies conducted in the laboratories have shown that one carbohydrate element in mallow possesses properties to retrain a constituent of the immune system in the human body. This constituent of the carbohydrate is known as the complement cascade. It may be mentioned here that unwarranted initiation of the complement cascade is said to be associated with chronic inflammation and autoimmune (caused by allergy to own body) syndrome. This amply suggests that more research is required on mallow's actions in these areas. In another laboratory study, scientists found that a polysaccharide (complex carbohydrate) extracted from the seeds of another member of the mallow family - Malva verticillata - motivated white blood cells also known as macrophages. In yet another test tube study, the raw powder of another species of the mallow family displayed properties of combating or resisting cancer!
Mallow leaves as well as flowers can be ingested in several ways - infusion and tincture. They can also be used externally for compress and in poultice. If you wish to use mallow internally, you may ingest it as an infusion or tincture. To prepare mallow infusion, add two teaspoons of dried or fresh mallow leaves in a cup of boiling water and allow it to suffuse for 10 to 15 minutes. The infusion may be drunk thrice daily. On the other hand, if you are taking mallow tincture, you may take two to four ml for the same three times daily.
For external use, prepare a mallow compress by adding one teaspoon of the herb in a cup of water and boil it. Allow the mixture to seethe for about 10 to 15 minutes. The decoction may be used for a compress to heal pains and swellings.
Harvesting of mallow flowers and leaves is done between July and September. Once the leaves and flowers are picked from the plant, they are dried and stored carefully for later use.