Globe mallow, desert mallow, apricot mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) is blooming now in the Southwest, and it is one of those herbs long used by humans.
The globe mallow is a common desert wildflower found especially in disturbed areas. Leaves and stems are covered with stellate (star-shaped) hairs that can irritate the skin, or eyes should they get in them, leading to the Spanish common name, “mal ojo” or bad eye. Under a hand lens the stellate hairs appear quite charming, looking like a forest of tiny umbrellas without any cloth on them.
Hairy Globe Mallow
But here’s a story about those stellate hairs. Many years ago in the Pinacate Wilderness (in Sonora, Mexico) I had a less than friendly encounter with them. My friend Cindy Baker and I (in shorts and tank tops) took a open dune buggy ride. We ran that buggy through a field of globe mallow. Flowers and leaves flew everywhere! Within about half an hour, Cindy and I started to itch and ache. We both ended up with severe dermatitis (skin rash) on legs and arms that only lavish application of benzocaine ointment could relieve. Those charming little stellate hairs were quite irritating en mass.
I told you that story to tell you this one.
Closely related to okra, globe mallow also contains mucopolysacharride starches (mucilage), the “slimy” stuff of okra. This slippery mucilage can provide a soothing coating to various inflammations and irritations. A cold infusion of macerated stems and leaves releases this mucilage and has been used as a poultice to soothe irritated skin. The cold infusion can also be drunk to stimulate white cell activity. Ironic that the plant that was the cause of our pain carried a cure, but we did not know it at the time!
The flowers make a mild, slightly tart tisane (herbal tea) which has long been used by natives as a refreshing drink at festivals. This use makes sense given that this plant is closely related to hibiscus. Hibiscus is used in many parts of the world to make a refreshing tea known variously as jamaica (ha-mai-ica) or agua de jamaica in Latin America, sorrel in Jamaica, and carcadè (or karkade) in Italy. Perhaps Father Kino drank carcadè growing up, and consumed its desert cousin half a century later as natives welcomed him and held festivals in his honor.
The nutrients in Hibiscus Tea – new page
Harvesting and Use of Globe Mallow
Stems and leaves of globe mallow are used fresh for medicinal purposes.
Flowers may be used fresh in salads for charming color. Also, the flowers can be used fresh or dried to make a refreshing hot or cold tisane. Flowers can also be candied (see Jacqueline’s book Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing & Using Them Today).
Note that there are a number of both wild and horticultural cultivars of globe mallow with many different colors – so blend of orange, pink, white and lavender candied flowers would be quite striking.
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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.