Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tree mallow

Tree mallow
In Malta several species of mallow are found growing wild. They are known as ħobbejz, a word of Arabic origin meaning small loaf.

The name was presumably given to it because of the seed pods which have the shape of a loaf. A similar name is used for the seed pods in Jersey where they are known as “petit pains”.

The English name mallow comes from Old English malwe which itself comes from the Latin word malva

The Latin name is itself derived either from an old Greek word for yellow or from a Hebrew word which sounds like the Maltese word melħ and which like the Maltese word means salty.

In 1859 the French name for mallow, mauve, started to be used for a colour.

This plant should be instantly recognizable, yet, most people hardly notice it growing along roadsides and in abandoned fields especially close to the coast. It can grow up to two metres high with strong woody trunk which in Malta would qualify it as a small tree.

It has large leaves and from March to June unmistakable brightly coloured flowers. It grows along the coasts of Western Europe and the Mediterranean as far east as Greece. It is often very common on islands.

The tree mallow (ħobbejża tas-siġra) can grow in environments with high salinity. Like the tamarisk tree, known in Maltese as bruka, it can survive in these difficult conditions because it is able to excrete salt through glands on its leaves.

In many parts of Europe the leaves of the tree mallow were used to make poultices which were used to treat sprains and burns and in some places they are still used as animal fodder. 

They have also been used as an alternative to toilet paper.

In the Middle East the leaves are used in a traditional Arab dish known as khubeza

This article was published in The Times on 02.05.2012

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