Common Mallow is a little wild medicine cabinet, albeit a poor man’s version of Marshmallow which has the same properties with higher potency.  The uses seem to all stem from the anti-inflammatory properties of the mucilage which is in high concentration.  This mucilage forms a thin film over mucous membranes (it acts as a ‘demulcent’) and relieves the swelling and inflammation.  So,

If you have toothache, chew the flowers. 

If you have a wound, apply a poultice of the leaves and flowers. 

Cough and cold?  Drink an infusion of the same. 

Bee or wasp sting?  Crush the flowers in olive oil and apply.

It gets better;  if you have kidney stones (gravel) or strangury (check this one for yourself) prepare a strong decoction by boiling up the leaves and flowers and …  

…inject(!)  The author takes no responsibility for the consequences of any natural remedy given here – he is merely passing on what he reads.  Maybe ‘injection’ is Mrs M. Grieve’s old English for ‘drink’ as that’s what you do with Marshmallow for the same disease.  Or, maybe you just need a pokier method of bodily introduction to get the most from Marshmallow’s poorer cousin.  Either way it won’t be my first thought if ever my kidneys seize up.

Finally, if you’re hungry, eat the leaves raw or boil them up.  The high amounts of mucilage make the plant a good thickener of sauces.

This bright young plant was growing on the grass verge along the road at work in Surrey.  Notice the notched purple/pink flowers with deep purple veins and the 5-lobed leaves.  It can grow to 3 or 4 feet, which is why I called this one ‘young’.

It’s getting late now, but if you want this cure-all medicine for yourself all year around, you have to collect it before it’s in full flower and dry it out thoroughly in the shade before storing in a jar.

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How about this for a familiar roadside / streamside / pathside / everyside sight at the moment:

Cow Parsley, it’s everywhere!  Like a big sign in white spray-paint all along the hedgerows saying ‘English summertime’.  This particular profusion is near Leatherhead, Surrey not far from the beautiful wooded hilltop that is Norbury Park.

Cow Parsley, or Wild Chervil as it’s also known, is an edible herb.  But it’s not as simple as this.  You see, that head of dozens of tiny flowers means this plant is an umbellifer (that’s its family’s name) and there are a lot of umbellifers which look a lot like each other.  The most worrying are Fool’s Parsley, which is poisonous, and Hemlock, which is deadly. 

These two have leaves which look like Cow Parsley’s.  In his book ‘The Forager Handbook’, Miles Irving has detailed all the differences very precisely in a table.  Fool’s Parsley is easy, underneath the flowers, it has really long green bracts that droop downwards.  We once had some growing in the garden and I was surprised how long and obvious the bracts actually are.  Cow Parsley doesn’t have any such thing.

Although the stem of Cow Parsley can have vaguely purple joints or can be quite darkly coloured, it never has purple blotches like the deadly Hemlock.  The leaves of Hemlock also look a lot more complicated, perhaps being more one extra time more pinnate (divided with leaflets either side) than Cow Parsley which is 3 times pinnate.  One of the nicest ways to identify Cow Parsley, I’ve just read, is by the U-shaped groove down the leaf stalk.  At the end of the day, a plant should only be eaten if you have positively identified it, or in other words: KNOW YOUR STUFF, NEVER BLUFF.

Identification complete, we gathered a load of leaves this afternoon and transported them home in my shorts pocket.  They’re supposed to go well in salads or chopped and sprinkled over cold potatoes as their flavour is only very mildly like parsley.  We were having rice though so I chopped them up and stirred them in just before covering and steaming.

Mmmm… Cow Parsley rice:

I’m afraid it made no difference to the flavour whatsoever, the rice tasted just like… …rice.  Maybe I should try it in a salad – or on cold potatoes.  I’ll just have to convince myself we must have eaten some extra micronutrients and have learned to eat another food source for free.

For a couple of months now, on the sunniest days, I’ve sat outside behind work to eat my lunch to the sound of bird song and the sight of trees and green.  Always glancing around at the plants as they develop, I’ve been perplexed by a set of oval, slightly toothed leaves – like these:

As the weeks went by long, dark, yellowey, greeny, brown (I just asked my girlfriend the colour) stems covered in white hairs began shooting up.  Still I was none the wiser.

We have two gardeners at work and I knew that they’d have it in mind to strim the entire patch soon.  As the plants got bigger and started to grow buds I knew they were about to reveal their identity – but would it be too late?

A couple of days ago, one and a half flowered – Ox-eye Daisy – so obvious when you see that big ring of white petals around a yellow centre – but I didn’t have my camera.  The VERY NEXT DAY, they strimmed!

But, thanks to some environmental policies of theirs or our workplace, they left a large patch of wild flowers for the wild life.  Brilliant:

The genus of it’s latin name ‘chrysanthemum’ means golden flower and the ‘leucanthemum’ species part means white flower so that’s a rather good description.  Richard Mabey says that John Evelyn says that the roots are eaten in salads in Spain while it says in The Modern Herbal that the leaves are eaten in salads in Italy.  I’ll try the latter tomorrow and let you know.  Irving suggests putting the chopped up buds to your dinner as they have a pleasant odour or taste.

Medicinally the flowers, leaves and stalks can be boiled to relieve them of their aromatic resin which seems to be useful against coughs.  The decoction drank or rubbed on the outside is also said to reduce swelling and heal wounds.  Good stuff!

References

This plant looks nothing like ivy.  It seems it got its name because of the way it grows all over a patch of ground to form a mat, like ivy sort of does. …but then ivy climbs trees and buildings while ground ivy can do nothing of the sort.  I see this plant all the time, usually in slightly more shaded areas near a tree or around a hedge or fence, but I am always happy when I do see my old friend.  We met during my uni days when I first found it’s picture in Roger Phillip’s book.  I soon discovered it was an edible herb (though too much of it is bad for horses…) and now rarely pass it by without putting a leaf to my lips and thrilling my tastebuds with its strong herbal taste.

In earlier days I used to confuse it with red deadnettle as they both grow to roughly the same height with similar leaves and the flowers look similar to my eyes!  In fact, the leaves are very different with ground ivy’s having relatively deep lobes.  The biggest difference seems to be the location of the flowers which in red deadnettle form only around the top but in ground ivy hang from points all down the stem.  Ground ivy also tends to be darker.

Anyway, on to its uses.  It is a nicely flavoured herb, like a weak mint, useful for flavouring cooking etc but best of all, it makes a very fine tea.  That is the reason I have a handful of its leaves in the picture above.  I carried these home in my trouser pocket and dried them on the windowsil for about a week:

Looks like considerably less now, doesn’t it.

Anyway, tonight I popped the dried leaves into a mug, poured on boiling water and let it brew for 5 minutes – like a proper northerner.  Is this too much detail?  Well, it looked pretty weak compared to what we’re used to seeing in a mug, even though I pressed and squeezed the leaves as much as I could.  The aroma was great though so I put mug to lips and sipped.

Bitter.

I added a third of a teaspoon of sugar and hey presto, flavour sensation!

This is called Gill Tea, from the french ‘guiller’ which means ‘to ferment beer’ – ground ivy used to be used before hops to clear beer and flavour it.

The taste at first hits the nostrils and one thinks it could be mint but not quite; only a mild mint.  In the mouth it reminds me of nettle tea, but that is perhaps just the rounded ‘green’ taste of any wild plant.  All in all though, I finished the cup and could quite happily drink it every day to refresh the senses in it’s minty way or warm the body on a cold spring day.

So, what’ll it do for me?  Well, the ‘Modern Herbal’ written in 1931 quotes centuries older sources that say it’s slightly stimulant and an excellent tonic for nervous headaches and clearing coughs.  The recipe for the latter, however, was sweetened with honey.  I read somewhere that honey in itself is as good as most cough medicines for doing the same.  I wouldn’t listen to the old texts too much though as, reading on, it seems the plant has been used at some stage for curing almost every malady.  Just like a normal cup of tea then.

Eeee, ‘ave a cuppa tea.

Godalming station, Surrey we parked the rented red Skoda and began walking while the sun shone.  It’s brightness was deceptive though as, unlike last week, the wind brought cold air from the north.  As if unsure of its mood, the weather alternated between smiling with sunshine and frowning with clouds and rain. 

The dark brown River Wey oozed steadily to our left, framed in green by the freshly formed spring leaves of dozens of river trees.  To our right were grasses and nettles growing on damp marshy ground.  Out from these shone a patch of a hundred light pink flowers.

Cuckoo Flower (or Lady’s Smock, cardamine pratensis).  I’ve often seen this plant growing in the damp but never been sure whether it was itself or Soapwort.  Checking the books, it seems they’re nothing like each other; Soapwort has broad, ordinary leaves while Cuckoo Flower’s are pinnate.  Furthermore, the flowers of Soapwort are all white with long green trumpets at the back.

The leaves are edible!  Had I known when I found it, I’d have munched on a couple but for now, I can only tell you that Richard Mabey says they’re slightly hot and Miles Irving that they assault the nose, like horseradish, with the ferocity of a clenched fist!  Damn, I really have missed out.  So, it seems they’re fun in salads and, according to both, great in puddings too.  You can be sure that the next post in this plant’s cateogory will include a personal description of its flavour.

References