Cheeseweed is a delightful wild vegetable that is easily foraged because it is easily recognized.
Cheeseweed is the common name applied to a number of species in the genus Malva, but especially to Malva parviflora. There are around 40 species of Malva; and they are related to hibiscus, in the Malvaceae (Mallow family). Also related to okra – but don’t let that deter you. These are not mucilaginous (slimy) at all.
How to Recognize Cheeseweed
Cheeseweed leaves are easy to recognize. They are more-or-less round with wavy, shallow-toothed edges, and very often have a reddish spot at the leaf base. Leaves are alternate to one another along the stem.
Leaves and stems of many Malva species have stellate (star-shaped) hairs. Although they are called star-shaped they really look like little umbrellas with no cloth on them. Don’t let these hairs get in your eyes! They can be very irritating. These hairs lead to the Spanish name of “mal ojo” (bad eye) for one cheeseweed cousin, the (charming wildflower) globe mallow.
Charming, tiny hibiscus look a likes! Flowers occur in almost any month the plant is around. They are small, white to pale pink to mauve, and half an inch or so in diameter. Flower clusters are found along the stalk, coming from the bases of leaf stalks (petioles).
Word Nerd Shares – Mauve
The color mauve is named for Malva, and for the color of the flowers of many members of this genus.
Finally we get to why they are called “cheeseweed.” The seed pods resemble a miniature wheel of cheese with wedge-shaped sections. Each section contains one seed.
Seeds are small and are inside a snail-shaped section of papery fruit described. The seeds have a rounded kidney shape, reddish brown, and are roughly 1/12 of an inch long. No, thats not a typo – 1/ 12 of an inch.
When to Forage Cheeseweed
Cheeseweed is a winter crop in the Low and Middle Desert of the Southwest, appearing in January and February. It is often abundant in vacant lots and disturbed areas.
It is found in later months in Upper Elevations, generally starting in March and April. I have also found it in June atop the Chiracuahua Mountains, in disturbed soils close to the parking area.
Which One to Harvest?
The standard “cheeseweed” commonly eaten and used medicinally is Malva parviflora. Little cheeseweed (Malva neglecta) can be found growing wild in our region and is also very useful as a food plant. Indeed – all species of Malva are considered edible. Palatability is a different question. In general you want to get young leaves for eating.
See our overview article discussing Cheeseweed – here.
One tasty way to prepare cheeseweed in Sauteed Cheeseweed – here.
Other spring greens to forage – on our YouTube – here
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The authors of this blog have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.
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