So we are into week 2 of my Winter Foraging Challenge. Thanks to those who tried to find the nourishing leaf buds from Tilia trees last week. Some of you sent me photos of your foraged finds. No one sent me a Lime bud photo but in hunting for them, Stinging nettles, Elder and Dandelions were found so that’s very positive! I have included Agnesa’s Elder bud photo as these are really common at the moment, they do resemble Lime buds in some ways (colour, size, position on bark and timing) but they are not edible and are useful to learn about. Elder leaves can be very helpful additions to ointments and oils so worth keeping an eye on these and returning in the spring.
This week’s plant is the Common mallow (Malva sylvestris). I’ve found quite a lot of healthy looking plants around town lately so I hope you get lucky with them too. Here is a single leaf. Notice that pinky-purple colouration at the centre of the leaf? That’s really characteristic and helps with ID. Breaking the leaf or stem also gives another ID clue – transparent mucilage! It oozes from the broken plant cells.
I harvest just a couple of leaves (along with the long leaf stalks) from large clumps of this herbaceous plant, wash well, chop finely and add to my smoothies. They contain plenty of mucilage and although they look world’s apart, Common mallow actually belongs to the same plant family as last week’s Lime tree (Tilia spp.).
If you find any, I’d love to see a photo or two!
At this time of year, flowers on Malva are few and far between but you may find one and if so, it will look something like this one. Does it remind you of hibiscus? That’s because the plants are closely related. Hollyhocks too. I am a big fan of this plant family and will be foraging it occasionally, throughout the winter.
One thing that I really miss when I am at school all week, is a long, relaxed, morning walk. I really need to start weaving more walks into my work week schedule. In any case, I certainly can’t complain as I am now on school holiday for a couple of weeks so started with a leisurely walk today. Taking in the air, sights and plants as I wander for 5km or more through Amsterdam east, is a great way to start the day.
This morning, my walk took in a long stretch of the Weespertrekvaart. On one side, a cycle path, sport fields, allotments and Amsteldorp (with plenty of Christmas lights at the moment). On the other, a mix of new villas, tower blocks, boats, businesses and the old Bijlmerbajes prison buildings. In between, a wide stretch of canal which a few ducks, gulls and a morning rowing team were enjoying. Between the canal and the cycle path is a footpath and parts of it are edged with reeds and wild herbs.
At this time of year there is a lot of green to be found in Amsterdam but due to midwinter’s reduced light and temperatures, most plants are not in flower or in good shape for foraging. At this time of year, it’s best to look but not touch, unless you find a big area of something quite special which is clearly loving the reduced competition for light, which midwinter also brings.
This Malva patch caught my eye. Not only is the plant quite prolific in places along the footpath, but here and there it can be found in flower. Plants are much easier to identify when in flower so this is great for foragers. Even if you don’t fancy foraging during midwinter, it is a great time to build your knowledge – of plant ID and where the plants like to grow.
Yesterday in school, one of the classes ran an assembly about different foods eaten to celebrate Christmas around the world. One mention really caught my attention – Malva Cake in South Africa! Malva – in a cake – what a great idea!
I tend to eat malva leaves, of all sorts, in salads or I cook them gently and eat in savoury dishes. They can be chopped up into a tasty falafel mix, fried, stuffed, cooked like spinach and then sprinkled with feta type cheese. The options are endless (so long as you are sure to wash dust off as they can be quite hairy). Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) is in the malva family, so is the Lime tree (Tilia spp) and they have ever so unctuous leaves. The malva in this photo looks like Common mallow (Malva sylvestris) to me. In my experience, it has less unctuous leaves than lime and marshmallow but they are mild tasting, very palatable and quite abundant in the greener parts of Amsterdam. More importantly, Common mallow is neither endangered here in The Netherlands (the Marshmallow plant is) nor is it out of reach (as Lime tree leaves certainly are in winter). So I became more and more pleased with this find on the footpath edge. One of my favourite Amsterdam plants is Hollyhock. That is also in the Malvaceae family and the leaves look quite similar to Common mallow. And while I think of it, some other Malvaceae members are cacao, cotton, durian and okra. This family of plants has high economic importance around the world.
Malva cake sounds great to me and also brings to mind the big packets of dried Malva leaves sold by my local Turkish supermarket (Yakhlaf on Javastraat). I googled recipes for malva cake and was a little disappointed that most contained no malva at all and looked distinctly similar to sticky toffee pudding. I found one reference to a Dutch cake with malva in the name but no actual malva in the recipe. So I am now on the hunt for a recipe which contains enough malva leaf to make a delicious unctuous cake – and preferably without carb-rich flour (as I am trying to avoid carbs). If you know of a recipe, I would love to hear! In the meantime, I will start experimenting with almond flour and malva leaves.
Do you have any uses for Malva leaves which you would like to share? If so please let me know in the post comments or through my contact page. Malva leaves seem to be very widely used in other parts of the world and right now, they are looking good in both Turkish supermarkets and winter footpath edges here in Amsterdam.
Forage lightly and happily, my friends!
Next Urban Herbology walk in Amsterdam – Tomorrow! 21st December. Check out my meetup group or What’s app me on 0627596930 if you would like to join the Winter Solstice walk.