Common Mallow weed (Malva neglecta) can be seen as the black sheep in a family of desirable plants. Also known as cheese mallow, cheese weed, and dwarf mallow, Common Mallow weed originated in Eurasia and North Africa and is related to plants like cotton, hibiscus, and okra.
But this weed isn’t all bad! Read on to learn about this weed’s strengths and weaknesses and how you might want to use or eradicate it.
How to Identify Common Mallow Weed
The circular or kidney-shaped leaves on the Common Mallow weed are arranged alternately at the apex of the petioles (inner stems), rimmed with a toothed edge. Each leaf has between 5 and 9 lobes that appear “crinkly.” The 2–6-centimeter-wide leaves are covered in little hairs.
Flowers and fruits
The weed’s fruits are said to look like tiny cheese wheels–hence the nicknames “cheese weed” and “cheese mallow.” Each fruit contains 10 to 12 wedge-shaped seeds that break apart when they mature.
The weed’s flowers are white, pink, or lilac, tinged with darker purple or purple veins. The five-petaled flowers are about 1 cm wide.
The weed’s secret weapon might be its seed. The seed’s thick coat allows them to survive, dormant, in soil for long periods. If the seed coat gets damaged, water can permeate it, and the seed will germinate.
Seedlings have round, hairy, heart-shaped leaves with smooth edges that grow in a basal rosette shape.
Roots and stems
Common Mallow weed has a deep taproot that becomes woody, making it especially strong and difficult to pull out of the ground. In addition, it develops a fibrous secondary root system as it spreads low across the ground.
Like every other part of this plant, the roots and stems are hairy. When they come into contact with soil, fragmented stems can produce roots if the soil conditions are moist enough.
Several weeds resemble the Common Mallow. Ground ivy is often confused with Common Mallow weed; however, unlike the mallow, ground ivy leaves fall opposite each other on the main stem and have rounded edges. Ground ivy also smells minty when it’s cut or damaged.
Little mallow is often commonly mistaken for Common Mallow weed, but the Common one’s petals are longer, its fruits are wrinkled, and little mallow fruits are smooth.
The last plant commonly confused with the Common Mallow weed is round-leaved mallow. You can tell the difference between common and round-leaved mallow because this mallow has larger flowers that aren’t as bright pink as those of the round-leaved mallow.
Another giveaway is that the round-leaved mallow fruits are smooth, unlike the bumpy fruit of the weed in question.
Why Common Mallow is Considered a Weed
The biggest reason Common Mallow is invasive and makes already unhealthy soil even less hospitable to beneficial and desirable plants. If desirable plants reside where Common Mallow weed takes root, they will be left to compete with it for space and resources.
If left to grow unchecked, the weed can damage farm equipment, its woody taproot tangling around moving equipment parts.
Beneficial Ways to Use Common Mallow Weed
Although most people see Common Mallow weed as a nuisance to be eradicated, there are some beneficial ways to use the plant.
Cooking and Eating
Every part of the Common Mallow weed is edible. Its flowers contain a mucus-like substance that can be ingested to protect and soothe the throat and mouth. They can also be used to treat constipation.
The leaves of the weed can also be cooked, fried, eaten, or dried for teas and supplements.
Their seeds can also be eaten, sauteed, or raw. Its fruit, which has a mildly nutty flavor, can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers. Its flowers can also be pickled or added to salads to provide a light, grassy flavor.
The weed’s roots can be boiled down to create a viscous liquid used as a thickening agent or even whipped into meringues.
Heath and Medicine
Common Mallow weed sap is used as a topical poultice and infusion to treat and heal wounds in South Africa. Native Americans have used the sap to reduce swelling and treat sores.
In modern herbal medicine, the weed’s sap is used to heal insect bites and soothe swollen muscles.
Vitamins and Effects
Common Mallow weed is rich in vitamins A, B, and C; calcium; magnesium; and potassium. Its tender young leaves have one of the highest amounts of vitamin A in any vegetable; however, the greens tend to have a bland flavor.
Some ancient lore claims that the weed can be used as an aphrodisiac, but that has yet to be scientifically proven.
How to Get Rid of Common Mallow
Common Mallow weed can be eradicated through mechanical methods such as pulling or hoeing when the plant is young before the taproot gets woody and spreads. Removing the crown of the weeds can also be effective.
You can prevent Common Mallow weed from invading your garden with competitive plants whose shade will reduce germination and weed growth.
Applying thick mulch can also help keep the weed from establishing itself where it doesn’t belong.
Preemergence and postemergence herbicides can be applied in spring and fall to discourage Common Mallow growth.
Vinegar can also be used to control growth. However, do remember that vinegar is nonselective and will kill any other plants it comes into contact with.
Wrapping up the Common Mallow
Common Mallow weed is, for the most part, a plant you don’t want to see in your yard or garden, though if it does pop up and you can’t get rid of it, you can at least add it to a salad for a nutritional boost!
Learn more about common weeds on our website.