Malva is a genus of about 25–30 species of herbaceous annual, biennial, and perennial plants in the family Malvaceae (of which it is the type genus), one of several closely related genera in the family to bear the common English name mallow. The genus is widespread throughout the temperate, subtropical and tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Europe. The word “mallow” is derived from Old English “malwe”, which was imported from Latin “malva”, which originated in Ancient Greek μαλάχη (malakhē) meaning “yellow” or Hebrew מַלּוּחַ (malúakh) meaning “salty”. A number of species, previously considered to belong to Lavatera, have been moved to Malva.
The leaves are alternate, palmately lobed. The flowers are from 0.5–5 cm diameter, with five pink or white petals.
The colour mauve was in 1859 named after the French name for this plant.
Several species are widely grown as garden flowers, while some are invasive weeds, particularly in the Americas where they are not native.
Many species are edible as leaf vegetables. Known as ebegümeci in Turkish, it is used as vegetable in Turkey in various forms such as stuffing the leaves with bulgur or rice or using the boiled leaves as side dish. Malva verticillata is grown on a limited commercial scale in China; when made as a herbal infusion, it is used for its colon cleansing properties and as a weight loss supplement.
Very easily grown, short-lived perennials often grown as ornamental plants. Mild tasting young mallow leaves can be a substitute for lettuce, whereas older leaves are better cooked as a leafy green vegetable. The buds and flowers can be used in salads.
Cultivation is by sowing the seeds directly outdoors in early spring. The seed is easy to collect, and they will often spread themselves by seed.
In Catalonia (Southern Europe) they use the leaves to cure stinging nettles sting.
Bodo tribals in Bodoland, Assam (Northeast India) cultivate a sub-species of malva and use it extensively in their traditional cuisine, although its use is not much known among other people of India.