In flower this month on a wasteland near you: Malva sylvestris, commonest and most widespread of the mallow family, an amiable group that includes our very own cottage-garden hollyhock.
All members of the family are edible, from leaves to blooms to seeds to root, though some are more palatable than others. Family characteristics are trumpet-shaped blossoms, lantern-like seedpods and indented roundish leaves, usually (though not always) covered in soft hairs. Shared characteristics when cooked are a viscous texture and a pleasant sourness. Among members of the family cultivated as food plants are okra, Hibiscus esculentis and melokia, Corchorus olitorius, Egypt’s favourite green vegetable, eaten fresh or dried. When picking your own supply of fresh leaves from a clean gathering patch, prepare as spinach and dress with a squeeze of lemon. Nicholas Culpeper’s recommendations for medicinal use include: a poultice of leaves for soothing insect stings; a syrup prepared with the flowers to facilitate childbirth; an infusion of roots and leaves taken as an antidote to poison before dining with your enemies. Useful information in the current political climate.
ELISABETH LUARD, @elisabethluard.