Monday, 11 March 2013

Useful weeds

Exhibit A:

This plant is the bane of our allotment. None of our more seasoned allotment neighbours ever identified it past 'THAT BLOODY THING!'. I suspected it was some sort of mallow, but all I and anybody else care to know about it is how to fully remove the two foot long, furcated root to stop it coming back month after month. Top tip? I have taken to digging as deep as I can and cutting the root with pruning shears followed by (repeatedly) pulling out the resulting weak stemmed plant that pops up a few weeks later. I hope that the root will eventually run out of juice and wither away.

I finally identified this plant having bought a gardening weekly with a free packet of Malva sylvestris 'Merlin' seeds. I have developed the habit of running any plant I cultivate or that piques my interest through the Plants for a Future Database. This is an excellent way to assess usefulness, adaptations and most importantly to me, omnomableness. In this case the pictures allowed me to identify the 'mallow' on my allotment - I didn't realize the very pretty flower that I planned to sow was a more ornamental variety of the very same weed that has been the bane of my life for two years.

The common mallow, according to PFAF, is used to treat coughs and respiratory infections. I wish I had known that before I worsened my thick, irritating cough trying to dig this very plant out on a cold, damp day last week. It is also edible and can be used to thicken soups and stews. I did try a tea made from a handful of steeped leaves. An hour or so later, for about two hours, my cough did indeed loosen up, not unlike the effect of taking an expectorant cough medicine. Placebo or otherwise I do not mind. I can also vouch for the fact that this plant does indeed taste like young spinach leaves and I wish I had at least harvested the tops of the plants that I pulled out.

My cough remains and my experiment is cut short, unfortunately, but I have learnt something new. My interest in the medicinal properties of plants is growing again and perhaps this is something I will look into further over the coming year. I also suspect that it is a plant I will forage for as opposed to intentionally cultivate. Perhaps my pretty Malva sylvestris seeds will find their way onto an abandoned plot somewhere in the city, ready for future use. 


  1. Our plans for an allotment were thwarted last year, sadly, and I doubt the chance will come our way again for a while, but I would have been growing a lot of medicinal herbs and dye plants if I'd had the chance. Even the most unwelcome plants can prove to be useful. Oh, and Anise is great for coughs :D

    1. I am going to have a stab at growing dye plants! I have so far been buying undyed fleece for my spinning practice and it would be nice to have a go. A lot of traditional dye plants are wonderful for insects too, so win-win!

      I love anise, thank you for the tip.

  2. Hi Aurora, I know what you mean, having various plants that I don't particularly like, reappearing time after time... at least now you know what it is! Dandelions can also be eatern (the green leaves) in stir fries etc and have great medicinal properties I believe. Haven't yet tried any though.
    Can I asked why you changed blog address? I am wondering if I should move or not, nothing wrong with where I am, I just don't know enough about it to know what a really, realy good blog host offers!
    Any advice much appreciated, stop by anytime! x

    1. I love dandelions, but for some reason they are the least pernicious weed on my plot. I am seriously considering growing a patch and having a go at making dandelion coffee. As long as I don't let them run to seed it should be manageable!

      I wanted to make the blog prettier and cleaner and it was easier to do that by building a new one in my spare time (not that I was posting much on Island Dreaming anyway!). I also fancied a change of name and a slight change of direction, it seemed better to calve off to a new space. I might bring some of my old posts over at some point. I have no experience with other blog platforms, blogger suits me just fine for the time being. Hope that helps.

      Thank you for following me over here :)