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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

So Many Mallows: A Native Nourishing Tonic

(Althea spp., Malva spp., Sphaeralcea spp. etc)

Energetics: cool/moist
Primary Actions: yin (fluid) tonic, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, diuretic

This exceedingly common plant manages to grow in near desert conditions, parking lots, gardens and fields. It possesses many of the same valuable mucilaginous qualities that Slippery Elm has gained fame for, but is in much less danger of being overharvested. When in doubt, use weeds!

The most common mallows to the Gila are the Sphaeralcea spp., locally called Scarlet Globemallow or Yerba de la Negrita. This beautiful scarlet to orange flower flourishes through drought and flood, and provides a nice slimy mucilage even in July. We also have many of the Malva spp., often called Cheeseweed or Mallow, or sometimes just “that damn weed” by New Mexico gardeners.

Primarily ignored as a weed in North America, Mallow deserves more attention for it’s many healing talents. Central to it’s abilities is the gooey mucilage in the herb and its roots. The slime has a unique ability to locally stimulate the immune system, provide moisture for the skin and other organ systems, soothe hot, dry conditions, and reliably heal any abraded, irritated surface, inside or out. And here in the hot, dry Southwest, these qualities are of great importance.

Mallow is a perfect Winter plant, remedying the deep dryness that infiltrates so many of us this time of year from the inside out. If you have a tendency towards chronic coldness, try spicing it up a bit with some cinnamon or ginger.

You’d be surprised what a difference this simple plant can make in irritated stomach conditions where many other more popular herbs have failed to make a permanent difference. My standard digestive tea for IBS consists of Burdock, Dandelion, Chamomile, Licorice, Fennel and copious amounts of Mallow root and leaf. This works great to cool down a hot, overworked and under-functioning and belly. Mallow also has a gentle nervine action and this assists in the tension generally associated with IBS.

A classic for hot (notice a trend here?), burning urinary tract infections. I generally blend it with a bit of dried Manzanita or Uva-Ursi for a nasty tasting but very effective tea. Also for hot, irritated kidneys, gallbladder, lungs and so on. Remarkably healing and powerful, you must be patient to gain the full benefits as it’s generally a slow but steady acting plant not meant for acute situations

Mallow poultices are wonderfully cooling for burns, sunburns, rashes and other hot, dry skin conditions. It’s a very drawing substance, and helps pull out splinters, pimples, boils and the like. Also traditionally used on hard swellings, sprains, broken bones and similar swollen, painful conditions. I usually combine it with Mullein or Comfrey for these uses, but it works quite well on its own.

Mallow root oil is lovely and slimy, a great addition to general salves. I often prepare Mallow infusions in my Ginseng Cooker, as it seems to allow for a better extraction of both mucilage and starch, though plain old cold infusions work great to extract the mucilage, and regular hot infusions for the starch. I’ve also made some really lovely honey pastes with powdered mallow root that can be used for an inflamed throat or stomach. It can also be placed directly on burns or abrasions. But recently I’ve been using the paste as a nourishing yin tonic for fluid deficient individuals. I suspect it would be extra nourishing (for the dairy tolerant) taken with raw milk, yogurt or cream and a bit of ghee.

I prepare mallow leaves stir-fried or chopped fine in salads. It does have a peculiar, moist taste that some don’t care for, but I think it’s lovely. And why take medicine when you can eat food?

The Mallows all share a very sweet spirit that attracts gardeners, herbalists and people who just like flowers. While I don’t use flower essences per se, I do sometimes add a bit of Mallow flower tincture to formulas for those who need a little extra nourishing sweetness in their life.

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism by Matthew Wood
Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest by Charlie Kane

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All writings & posts (c)2007 Kiva Rose
All artwork & photographs (c) 2007 Jesse Wolf Hardin