"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Discovering Mallow

This winter I have been experimenting with a homemade shampoo based on the soapwort we grow in our garden, now our only source of laundry detergent. My focus has been on finding a way to thicken the soap enough so that it would have the consistency of a commercial shampoo. For this endeavour I have used thickeners such as flax, dried mallow, powdered beans, and various combinations of each with limited success...so far. I am fairly confident that some or all of these ingredients combined with my soapwort will make an excellent hair wash once I am able to determine the proper solution. Unfortunately, the supply of dried soapwort set aside for these experiments is all but used up so self-reliance on the shampoo front is on hold until later this year when a new supply of roots can be obtained from the gardens.

This is the last of our dried soapwort, some of which has been powdered.


As so often seems to happen with these funky little projects one thing leads to another and I often find myself discovering or in this case uncovering something altogether different. I was aware that a member of the mallow plant genus was at one time used to make the original confectionery "marshmallow," via its roots. Similar varieties, Common Mallow, Hollyhocks, and (I think) Musk Mallow, that we once introduced as flowers and have now naturalized on the fringes of our garden have the same mucilaginous properties. Hence the reason I am attempting to use them in my shampoo making ventures.

Shampoo making venture #3 produced plenty of suds but not enough consistency...


Anyway, having not thoroughly researched mallow until recently, I was unaware and quite surprised at all the other benefits associated with these plants. Apparently the mallow that was once used as a binding agent (binding sugar and egg whites) in the making of marshmallows has an unbelievably immense medicinal profile as well.

Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris) The root and leaves contain a slimy mucilage that can be used to sooth irritated tissue and relieve various forms of inflammation. They can be made into a tea or combined with sugar to make a syrup, both tea and syrup can be used as an effective cough remedy. Because it contains fair amounts of salicylic acid, an ingredient used in the preparation of aspirin, it has also been used throughout history to help relieve sore throats, reduce fever, and even headaches. I find it somewhat fascinating that, unbeknownst to me, I have had a potentially effective cold and flu relief/remedy growing right under my nose all along and have not until recently been aware of this plant's full potential.

Pulling a mallow root. I have yet to positively identify these as Musk Mallow.


Another once common use for mallow was as an emollient for dry irritated skin. I've read that the mucilages contained in the plant can not only be used internally but externally as well helping to heal skin issues that range anywhere from from diaper rashes and sunburns to psoriasis and eczema. Also, the plants salicylic acid content makes it a viable treatment for acne, helping to clean out the skins pores thus reducing the number of breakouts.

Besides using the plant as a cough suppressant, it is the eczema treatment that we are most excited about. Our grandson, like his father, has issues with dry itchy skin. So much so that it often keeps him awake at night tossing and turning. We are looking forward to exploring this as a possible solution to his dilemma. The poor kid, he is still trying to get the bean particles out of his hair from our last experiment. Hey, someone needs to be the guinea pig and he was paid in chocolate for his efforts. Besides, just think of all the stories he will someday be able to tell his own children about his crazed grandparents and all of their strange and unusual ways.

In addition, the flowers and young leaves can be eaten raw in salads and along with the rest of the plant are reportedly a good source of beta-carotene, amino acids, many minerals and vitamins including B1, B2, and B3. Everything I have read states that there are no known side effects to using this plant in it's various forms...in moderation. Evidently, mallow is so safe that mothers used to give the peeled root to their babies to help with teething discomfort. I must question this action as it would seem to pose as a possible choking hazard?

Common Mallow roots for teething infants? Perhaps they should be tested on our teething puppy first...


We will be making a tea this week by allowing a small amount of the powdered root to steep in warm water for awhile and adding honey upon serving. While it is rare for either of us to come down with a cough or sore throat we can still try it just for grins. What I really need is to find a sick subject to experiment on. The grandson is back in school this week and believe me it is only a matter of time before he comes to us with some sort of ailment that involves coughing. As long as he is unaware that there is anything but honey in his tea we shall soon see if it really works.:)

38 comments:

kelli said...

very interesting! i'd like to see your shampoo recipe when you get the consistency down!

Mr. H. said...

Hi kelli,

If I ever get it figured out I will happily share it with you.:)

Stefaneener said...

Sounds like fun. Thank goodness that your guinea pig is related to you -- a handy source of testing.

Michelle said...

I might be willing to be a guinea pig if you ply me with enough chocolate. :) Definitely a weakness of mine...

I had read about mallow as food but I've not been tempted to try it as I'm not fond of muscilaginous vegetables (okra, nopales, purslane). But I might be able to take it as a cold remedy. Very interesting post.

Heiko said...

Must look out for some of that. I'm not sure I could positively identify one, but the leaves seem familiar and quite distinct. And maybe the next time the dog needs a wash you could try it on him, don't let the animal welfare people know about you having an animal testing laboratory going though!

If you read the link on my last post about the guy living without money, he's made toothepaste out of cuttlefish bone and fennel seeds, which sounds interesting.

kitsapFG said...

I used to have a large swath of hollyhocks in my garden when we lived in central Washington. They self seeded with abandon and I was constantly pulling up those long deep roots from all over the garden area where the seed had landed and took hold. They are incredibly prolific and those roots go to China.

Had I known they had so many useful properties, I would have treated those roots with a little more respect! Instead of cursing them as I labored to pull them from places they did not belong!

Diane@Peaceful Acres said...

Oh I love your stories!!! Little Grandson is quite a sport, isn't he??? So cute! Although he sounds pretty tough and willing to be you guinea pig, have you tried Cod Liver Oil and raw butter for his skin issues? Our DD had lots of eczema growing up and into her adult years and she found that food intolerance's were a large part of her problem. And of course healing the leaky gut as is described in Gut & Phsych Syndrome by Dr Natsha Campbell McBride, known as the GAPS diet. Just some thoughts.

It's pretty neat when we find a winner by shear accident. We did the same with Mullein which grows freely here. And my beloved volunteer Elderberry Tree!!!

Mr. H. said...

Stefaneener - He is a very handy source for testing, and you should see how shiny his hair is becoming.:)

Michelle - Other than fresh garden veggies what could possibly be better than chocolate.

I am looking forward to trying the leaves this spring but have a feeling they will not taste that good. The root goo itself has a slightly parsnipy flavor to it...not entirely terrible.

Heiko - Your links are on today's reading list. I would love to make my own toothpaste. Speaking of which, some people make tooth brushes out of mallow root by unraveling the ends, boiling them in cinnamon, soaking in brandy to strengthen the root, and than drying.

On mallow, I bet you do have it growing in your area as it originated in Europe (I think). They do have a wide variety of leaf types. One feature that might help with identification is the seed pods look like little wheels of cheese. If you ever want help identifying them just let me know and I can help you out.

kitSapFG - Yes, the hollyhock was a popular herb in China in days gone by...maybe it still is. The roots and leaves are supposed to have all of the same properties of other medicinal mallow in varying degrees. You might have to introduce some more to your garden.

Diane - Bribery Diane, we must use bribery as he really is not that willing of a subject.:) I will keep the cod oil and butter in mind, it certainly could be his diet or food intolerances. When not with us his diet is terrible...we consider our house his rejuvenation station,. He comes to us sick and goes away healthy/er.

We have Mullein as well, I have yet to do anything with it. I really need to look into it some more as I think it is also a mucilaginous herb that can be used in a similar manner as mallow.

wendy said...

I love you experiments!
Mallow rocks but I would skip trying the recipe for cough drops that uses honey and the dried herb. Not good and I had five guinea pigs to try it on.lol. Don't forget that you can also use Hollyhock as a dye. Look here to see/read about someone doing it. http://celticharpanddrum.blogspot.com/2005_09_01_archive.html
Good luck with your shampoo. I've tried several shampoo recipes and even going without..."they" say you don't really need it, but I haven't found anything to work...Yet. When I get my hands on some ash I'm going to try this http://ambergriscaye.com/25years/noneedshampoo.html

Accidental Huswife said...

Mallow sounds like it has a similar profile to aloe vera, which is our go-to medicinal.

As to mullein, it's also one of my favorite herbs. I use a mullein/horehound tincture for colds and respiratory illnesses.

BTW, puppy and grandson are unbelievably cute together!

melissa said...

Fascinating! I would be really interested to hear how you powdered the root.

Roasted Garlicious said...

Mr. H.. interesting article.. i have mallow that keeps coming up year after year, in the paths of my raised bed...i wish it would take over in other less trampled spots!! Hows that teething puppy doing!! i'm sure that u already know but frozen knuckle bones and a kong filled with peanut butter and frozen are good teething 'rings' for puppies :D

Ruralrose said...

What about psyllium (sp. plantain) powder? This is an excellent experiment. You just know we have everything we need to live right where we live. Every day my eyes are opened more and this post was no exception. Thanks for sharing, peace

Silke said...

Oh, I had to laugh at the stories of your grandson, the experiment guinea pig! Poor guy - I hope you have lots of chocolate on hand... I had heard about mallow having wonderful medicinal properties. Well, as soon as one of us comes down with a cough (which is rare), we'll have to try it. I hope it works for the grandson's itchy skin!! :) Silke

Mr. H. said...

Wendy - Five Guinea pigs...wow, you can perform all sorts of experiments with that many subjects.:) I'm glad you shared your thoughts on the candied mallow...I won't bother with it.

The article on ashes was very interesting and something that I might have to try thanks for the link. Also I did not know that hollyhock blossoms could be used for a dye http://celticharpanddrum.blogspot.com/search?q=hollyhock and will have to read more about that. Thank you.

Mr. H. said...

Accidental Huswife - We have talked about trying to grow aloe vera but don't think our season is warm or long enough. It sounds as though I do need to research mullein a bit more.

About the puppy and grandson...thanks! You should see how fast the puppy is growing.

Mr. H. said...

Melissa - I dryed both types (soap and marrow) of roots for a few weeks by hanging them on our porch this fall. I then broke them up and used our little hand crank grain grinder to make them into powder as needed. Keeping in mind the importance of cleaning the grinder after putting slightly toxic soapwort root through it. It worked great though...for small amounts.

Mr. H. said...

Roasted Garlicious - The mallow plant is tenacious isn't it? I saved seeds off ours this year so I could plant it where I want it to grow, I'm not sure how well they transplant with the long root.

We have been giving the little guy big soup bones to chew on and it has been a teething life saver.

Mr. H. said...

Ruralrose - We eat young plantain all of the time but once again I have yet to thoroughly research its medicinal properties. I did just look up this great article after reading your comment though: http://www.herballegacy.com/Ahlborn_Formulas.html
It is amazing how many long forgotten natural medicines there are growing right under our feet. Speaking of which, I had the best dandelion and chicory salad with dinner last night...a medicinal salad if you will.:)

Mr. H. said...

Silke - We do have lots of chocolate on hand but it is 90% and has to be dipped in honey to taste good..he loves it. You didn't think we gave him the sugary kind did you?:) Seriously though, if you ever do try the mallow please let me know what you think.

Chiot's Run said...

I do love mallow for a sore throat. I'm hoping to harvest some extra this summer to make cough drops.

I keep wanting to grow some soapwort, perhaps this summer I will finally get around to it.

Thanks for the tips.

Accidental Huswife said...

One more thing -- I guess if Aloe doesn't grow well there, yucca probably doesn't either but I have to say, yucca root makes the best hair/body wash I have ever tried. It smells so good and fresh. Like a spa treatment.

Also, aloe is happy inside. I keep it in pots by the sink in the kitchen and the bathrooms -- for quick treatment of burns, rashes, skin breakouts, sunburn, insect bites. I couldn't survive Texas without it. :)

Mrs. Mac said...

Good for you trying to get a better homemade shampoo recipe. I've only tried the baking soda and vinegar routine... and homemade bar soap. Long hair would be more of a chore to use these two methods on. I wonder what the local Indian tribes would have used.

Ayak said...

Absolutely fascinating Mr H. There must be so many more wild plants out there that we just don't know enough about.

Mr. H. said...

Susy - I think you will like the soapwort and find it to be quite an amazing plant. On a cleaning power scale of 1-100, 1 being water and 100 being chemical detergent, I would give it a 75 and that is enough for us.

Accidental Huswife - I just asked my wife about Yucca and she remembered growing some many years ago. So I looked it up and there are indeed a couple of cold hardy varieties that do well in England and Canada. Perhaps we will try finding some of those ones. Thanks so much for mentioning it.:)

Mrs. Mac - Very good question? I did a little research and apparently wood ash was commonly used to clean hair. Now the Crow Indians: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3425500223.html
"The Crow Indians of the Plains took special pride in their long hair. They used bear grease or buffalo dung to stiffen curls they made with a heated stick, and they also applied cactus pulp to make their hair shine." Hmm, I think I will pass on both the dung and bear grease.:)

Ayak - It is fascinating and I am always surprised at how many wild edible and medicinal plants there are right under foot if one simply takes the time to look. I am starting to look more and more.

GetSoiled said...

Hey again Mr. H!

Interesting info about mallows! Thank you so much for taking the time to share it...also, I love that botanical photo you included.

Have you ever tried to wash your hair with just a tea spoon or so of baking soda mixed with a half a cup of water?

After trying numerous recipes for home-made shampoo, I found that this method worked best for us.

It takes about 10 to 15 days for most people to get used to washing their hair with baking soda.

I miss the suds, but knowing that this is restoring my scalp's natural oils (depleted with shampoo's harsh chemicals...that's the "squeaky clean" sound one sometimes hears after rinsing), and it is the safest/cheapest way to go about it I am a very happy camper and my hair looks darn healthy and shiny.

Give it a try if you feel like it. It really does work...although during the first couple of weeks you'll hate me :)

Mr. H. said...

GetSoiled,

I'm so sorry I did not see this comment, between the puppy, seed starting preparations, a bathroom remodel, and a grandson that might be living with us full time this blog has fallen by the wayside...Agh! It's all good though:)

Anyway, I might (no promises) just try the baking soda shampoo as you suggested until I get around to finishing my experiment. I hate buying chemical shampoo...how greasy will my hair get, and is it really true that it won't be that way after a couple weeks or so?

GetSoiled said...

Yup, your hair will *feel* greasy at first, it is your hair's initial response to trying to balance its natural oils.

That not so pleasant part of the change should last no more than two weeks...after that it is smooth sailing!

We keep a little jar with baking soda and a mason jar next to it. That way every time we need to use our "shampoo" we can mix it right then and there.

I do miss the suds, but I think it is a very small price to pay for something natural, environmentally friendly & cheap!

Hope you can make it through those two weeks :0)

LynnS said...

Mike, look into Arrowroot to thicken your soapy solution. True Arrowroot, Maranta arundinacea, is a starch and used as a thickener. Corn starch should also work (made w/ the endosperm of dried corn kernels).

Also, aloe vera is mostly grown as a houseplant. My pots go outdoors in warm weather, but back into the house (or greenhouse) in cold weather. The very best plant for burns, it also has antiseptic qualities. I can send you some in the spring to try growing.

Guinea pig = grandson. Build the experimental foundation now. When he's older he can write the book to make him famous.....
;-)

Mr. H. said...

Lynn,

I will look into Arrowroot...never heard of it before. I am excited to finish this project as I would love to not buy shampoo. I never thought of cornstarch either. Thank you so very much for the ideas...I needed some.

Also, thanks for the aloe vera offer but we cannot grow such things in our house do to the lack of light in the winter months. I can force greens to grow come January but any houseplant ends up in pitiful shape around here.

I'm not sure about the grandsons book idea, perhaps he might become a famous phycologist after overcoming the influence of his crazed grandparents though...maybe he could write a book. on that after all.:)

LynnS said...

Hey Mike, I was thinking the boy might author "Eccentrics, Volume 2: Why I'm Weird". ;-)

Of course, the dog will keep him centered......

(Seriously, get out the camera and give us a video of the 2 of them romping around, please.)

Mr. H. said...

Lynn,

I was thinking of the whole eccentric thing when I did my last post on raiding red ant nests for soil mix. I think perhaps it is more likely that grandson will call Eccentrics Volume 2 "My very Weird and Unusual Grandfather.":)

I just took a video of the puppy during a chicken/dog relations course that I might post. No good grandson and puppy videos yet. I will work on it....they both move around so darn fast.

Kathy said...

I found this site searching mallow. I was out gathering some this evening as someone told me that it is an excellent remedy for cracked heels. I soaked mine in cold water and tomorrow it will be used for a foot bath.
I will also collect more to make an infusion for salve for the same purpose.
Your living seems like fun.

Mr. H. said...

Kathy - Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on mallow. It has such wonderful mucilaginous properties that I have no doubt it would work great for cracked heals...I might have to try using it that way myself.

Chris Brock (under the mulberry tree) said...

Mallow (small flowered at least)is also popular with my rabbits - as part of their balanced diet...

Mr. H. said...

It's interesting that rabbits will eat it yet my chickens will not touch the plants that grow within their confines. I'll have to give some to my sister-in-law some to try on her rabbits.

Lisa said...

I’ve tried all sorts of coughing syrups, believe me, but none of them helps. Even though Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa www.geocities.jp/ninjiom_hong_kong/index_e.htm does not eliminates the cough I like to stick to this chinese syrup I’ve been taking since I was a kid: Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa. My grandfather is chinese, so I guess my mom got the advice from him. I was really surprised when I found that chinese market selling it here in Belgium. It does have a refreshing, soothing, sweetening effect…as long as it lasts…then back to coughing mode.

Mr. H. said...

Thanks Lisa - It appears that Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa can contain a wide variety of different ingredients, very interesting.

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