Sunday, July 11, 2010

The large-flowered mallow

Large-flowered mallow (Lavatera trimestris)
The mallow family is a family of flowering plants with nearly 2,300 species. Well known members of this family include the hibiscus, okra and cacao. 

Several species are found in Malta. Most have large beautiful flowers, the largest being those of the large-flowered mallow (ħobbejża tal-warda kbira) which is an annual species often found growing near fields and country paths. The flowers which can be about 10 cm in diameter can be seen from mid-spring to early summer.

The large-flowered mallow belongs to a genus of about 25 plants with five pink, white or red petals, known as Lavatera. This genus is native to the Mediterranean region, central and eastern Asia and Australia.

The scientific name of the large-flowered mallow is Lavatera trimestris.

 Lavatera is named after the brothers Johann Heinrich Lavater (1611-1691) and Johann Jacob Lavater (1594-1636), Swiss physicians and naturalists while trimestris is Latin for three months.

It is found in the Mediterranean region, from Morocco, Portugal, Spain and Southern France to Turkey and the Middle East, including the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, and Greece. It is naturalised in other locations in Europe such as Germany and England and on other continents, including the United States where it is often sold in wildflower seed mixes.

Other mallows found in the Maltese countryside are the tree mallow (ħobbejża tas-siġra), the common mallow (ħobbejża kommuni) and the Cretan mallow (ħobbejża wieqfa).

The large-flowered mallow does not seem to have any medicinal properties but the other mallows were often in demand for their ability to cure several ailments. They are rich in mucilage which are good emollients. They are used to treat throat infections and against catarrh in the bronchi. They are also used as a cure against diarrhea and colic, as well as a laxative.

The Romans used the common mallow as food and medicine and – together with the marsh mallow, mulleins and pellitory – it was used in the preparation of a well known cough remedy.

Galen, who lived in the second century in Asia Minor, considered it a good-tasting strong medicine; others used it to refresh themselves during hot summer days.

The English name comes from the Latin word mollire which means to soften; while the Maltese name means small loaf, which refers to the shape of the fruit. 

This article appeared in The Times on 28.04.10

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