Mallow & Mint
Mallow & Mint
Malvaceae, or mallows, are a family of flowering plants estimated to contain 244 genera with 4225 known species. Well-known members of economic importance include okra, cotton, cacao and durian. There are also some genera containing familiar ornamentals, such as Alcea (hollyhock), Malva (mallow) and Lavatera (tree mallow). The largest genera in terms of number of species are Hibiscus (300). The Mallow is a native plant common in the south and east of the British Isles. Its name is supposed to originate from a Greek word meaning soft since the leaves are characteristically soft and mucilaginous. George Crabbe (1) says:
'Hardy and high, above the slender sheaf,
The slimy mallow waves her silky leaf.'
The leaves have been used for poulticing. One herbalist suggesting that 'a cataplasm of the leaves applied to the Place, stung by Bees or Wasps, eases the smart'. An infusion of the leaves is a popular treatment for colds and coughs. The mature fruit consists of a disc of nutlets, similar in shape to a cheese, being edible and tasting of peanuts. Hence the many 'cheese' names popularly given to this plant, such as Bread and Cheese, Fairy Cheese and Lady's Cheese. Blunt (2) reproduces a water-colour of this species by Andrea Amadio (c. 1415) (3), which he describes as being, for this early date, naturalistic and truly astonishing.
Mentha (also known as mint, from Greek míntha is a genus of plants in the family Lamiaceae (mint family). It is estimated that 13 to 18 species exist, and the exact distinction between species is still unclear. Only three of the seven species of Mint found in the British Isles are native, but because they are all variable they hybridise easily. The commonest species is Water Mint, preferring swamps, marshes, fens and wet woods. Parkinson (4) wrote 'Aristotle (5) and others in ancient times forbade Mints to be used of souldiers in the time of Warre, because they thought it did so much to incite to Venery that it took away, or at least abated, their animosity or courage to fight', but he also says that 'applyed to the forehead or the temple of the head it easeth the paines thereof.' Gerard (6) recommends using it 'to strowe (strew) in chambers and places of recreation, pleasure and repose, and where feasts and banquets are made ... (because) ... the savour and smell of the water Mint rejoiceth the hart of man'. The practical Cambridgeshire fenmen used it in the preparation of eelskin garters, worn as protection against rheumatism. Its long popularity in medicine and cooking is reflected in some place-names: Mintstead (sted meaning place) and Minety (ea meaning stream). The most famous Mint hybrid, between Water Mint and the introduced Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is the Peppermint, which was first discovered in the late 17th century and is still cultivated for its oil, which contains menthol. In France it is known as menthe anglaise, and in Germany as Englische Minze.
(1) Crabbe, George (1754–1832) poet, surgeon, clergyman, The Village, 1782;
(2) Blunt, Wilfred (1901-1987) teacher, artist, author, The Art of Botanical Illustration. London, 1950;
(3) Amadio, Andrea (active 1450's in Venice) Italian miniaturist (about whom virtually nothing is known)
(4) Parkinson, John (1567–1650), herbalist, Theatrum Botanicum (The Botanical Theatre or Theatre of Plants) 1640;
(5) Aristotle (384–322 BC) ancient Greek philosopher, scientist (born Stagira, Chalkidiki, north of Classical Greece).
(6) Gerard, John (c 1545-1612) botanist and herbalist, Great Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597;