Mallows





All the Mallows (Malvaceoe) to the number of a thousand, agree

in containing mucilage freely, and in possessing no unwholesome

properties.



Their family name Mallow is derived from the Greek malassein,

to soften, as alluding to the demulcent qualities of these

mucilaginous plants. The Common Mallow is a well-known roadside

plant, with large downy leaves, and streaked trumpet-shaped

purple flowers, which later on furnish round button-like

seeds, known to the rustics as pickcheeses in Norfolk and

elsewhere, whilst beloved by schoolboys, because of their nutty

flavour, and called by them Bread and Cheese.



Clare tells playfully of the fairies, borne by mice at a gallop:--



In chariots lolling at their ease,

Made of whate'er their fancies please,

With wheels at hand of Mallow seeds,

Which childish sport had strung as beads.



And recalls the time when he sat as a boy:--



Picking from Mallows, sport to please,

The crumpled seed we called a cheese.



Both this plant and its twin sister, the Marsh Mallow (Althoea

hibiscus, from altho, to cure), possess medicinal virtues, which

entitle them to take rank as curative Herbal Simples. The Sussex

peasant knows the Common Mallow as Maller, so that aller and

maller means with him Alehoof (Ground Ivy) and Mallow. Pliny

said: Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the [323] Mallows shall

that day be free from all diseases that may come to him.



This plant is often named Round Dock, and was formerly called

Hock Herb: our Hollyhock being of the Mallow tribe, and first

brought to us from China. Pythagoras held Malvoe folium

sanctissimum; and we read of Epimenides in Plato, at his

Mallows and Asphodels. The Romans esteemed the plant in deliciis

among their dainties, and placed it of old as the first dish at

their tables. The laxative properties of the Mallow, both as regards

its emollient leaves, and its radix altheoe efficacior, were told of

by Cicero and Horace.



The Marsh Mallow grows wild abundantly in many parts of England,

especially in marshes near the sea coast. It gets its generic

name althoea, from the Greek althos, a remedy, because

exercising so many curative virtues. Its old appellations were

Vismalva, Bismalva, Malvaviscus, being twice as medicinally

efficacious as the ordinary Mallow (Sylvestris).



Virgil in one of his eclogues teaches how to coax goats with the

Marsh Mallow:--



Haedorumque gregem viridi compellere hibisco.



The root is sweet and very mucilaginous when chewed, containing

more than half its weight of saccharine viscous mucilage. It is,

therefore, emollient, demulcent, pain-soothing, and lubricating;

serving to subdue heat and irritation, whilst, if applied externally,

diminishing the painful soreness of inflamed parts. It is, for these

reasons, much employed in domestic poultices, and in decoction as

a medicine for pulmonary catarrhs, hoarseness, and irritative

diarrhoea or dysentery. Also the decoction acts well as a bland

soothing collyrium for [324] bathing inflamed eyes. Gerard says:

The leaves be with good effect mixed with fomentations and

poultices against pains of the sides, of the stone, and of the bladder;

also in a bath they serve to take away any manner of pain.



The mucilaginous matter with which the Marsh Mallow abounds is

the medicinal part of the plant; the roots of the Common Mallow

being useless to yield it for such purposes, whilst those of the Marsh

Mallow are of singular efficacy. A decoction of Marsh Mallow is

made by adding five pints of water to a quarter-of-a-pound of the

dried root, then boiling down to three pints, and straining through

calico. Also Marsh Mallow ointment is a popular remedy, especially

for mollifying heat, and hence it was thought invaluable by those

who had to undergo the ordeal of holding red hot iron in their hands,

to rapidly test their moral integrity. The sap of the Marsh Mallow

was combined together with seeds of Fleabane, and the white of an

hen's egg, to make a paste which was so adhesive that the hands

when coated with it were safe from harm through holding for a few

moments the glowing iron.



French druggists prepare a famous medicinal sweet-meat, known as

Pate de gimauve from the root of the Marsh Mallow. In Palestine,

the plant is employed by the poor to eke out their food; thus we read

in the book of Job (chap. xxx. ver. 4), Who cut up Mallows by the

bushes, and juniper roots for their meat.



In France, the young tops and tender leaves of the Marsh Mallow

are added to spring salads, as stimulating the kidneys healthily, for

which purpose is likewise prepared a syrup of Marsh Mallows

(Syrupus Althoeus) from the roots with cold water, to which the

[325] sugar is afterwards added. The leaves, flowers, and roots, are

employed for making ptisans. In Devonshire, this plant is termed by

the farmers, Meshmellish, also Drunkards, because growing

close by the water; and in the West of England, Bulls-eyes; whilst

being known in Somerset as Bull Flowers (pool flowers). The root

of the Marsh Mallow contains starch, mucilage, pectin, oil, sugar,

asparagin, phosphate of lime, glutinous matter and cellulose. An

infusion made with cold water takes up the mucilage, sugar, and

asparagin, then the hot water dissolves the starch.



The flowers were used formerly on May-day by country people for

strewing before their doors, and weaving into garlands.



The Geranium is said to have been originally a Mallow. Mahomet

having washed his shirt while on a journey, hung it on a Mallow to

dry, and the plant became therefore promoted to be a Geranium.



Most probably, the modern French Pate de gimauve contains

actually nothing of the plant or its constituents; but the root is

given in France to infants, on which they may try their teeth

during dentition, much as Orris root is used elsewhere.



The laxative quality of the common Mallow was mentioned by

Martial:--



Exoneraturas ventrem mihi villica malvas

Attulit, et varias quas habet hortus opes.



The Musk Mallow (Malva moschata) is another common variety

of this plant, which emits from its leaves a faint musky odour,

especially in warm weather, or when they are drawn lightly through

the hand. Its virtues are similar in kind, but less powerful in

degree, to those of the Marsh Mallow.





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