Foraging the Spring Garden

By Jess Starwood

With the abundance of spring energy comes the abundance of weeds in the garden. Instead of fighting them, why not eat them? One of the mildest and easiest to identify weeds is the common garden mallow (Malva neglecta and Malva parviflora). A related species in this family of plants, Althaea officinalis, was originally used to make the sweet treat marshmallows. Despite their edible and culinary uses, they often are not desirable in the garden.

How to Identify
Round, palmate leaves that resemble geranium, with a toothed margin. Mallow family plants have a red spot at the cleft where the stem meets the leaf. The small, sometimes inconspicuous flowers produce a seed head that is segmented like a cheese wheel, each seed being wedge shaped when pulled apart. Mallow is also known as “cheese weed” because of these seeds.This plant is widely common across the United States.

Spring and early summer seasons. Collect younger leaves for fresh salads and older leaves are great for making chips or using to thicken soups/broth/sauces. Seedpods are best collected when still young and green before they harden into mature brown seeds.

Preparation & Uses
Use fresh in salads, some large leaves can be used as mini “tortilla” wraps or stuffed like grape leaves. Batter and dehydrate large leaves to make mallow “chips.”

Use cooked with other greens or in soups and stews to help create a thicker texture. The mucilaginous quality can be utilized like its relative okra.

The green seedpod “cheese wheels” can be eaten raw while they are still young or pickled. They add a nice texture to salads.

Spicy Mallow Chips

1-2 lbs fresh mallow leaves, the largest you can find
1/2 cup tahini or cashew butter
1/4 cup tamari, soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2tsp chipotle or cayenne (optional)
1-2 lemons, juiced


Wash the leaves and pat dry. I sometimes leave a few inches of the stems still attached to the leaves to help move them around when coating, but also for aesthetics.

Mix together all the ingredients for the seasoning. If it is too thick or paste-like, thin with about 1/4-1/2 cup of spring water. Taste, and adjust spices if necessary.

Coat each leaf generously with the seasoning mixture. Place each leaf separately onto dehydrator trays and dehydrate at 120° for 4-6 hours, or until crispy.
If you do not have access to a food dehydrator, an oven on the lowest setting can be used instead.

This recipe also works well with other weedy leaves such as dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis), stinging nettle (Urtica sp.), sow thistle (Sonchus sp.) or many other possibilities.

Quick Pickled Cheeseweed Capers

1/2 cup cheese weed immature seed pods
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp mustard seeds

Rinse the cheese weed seed pods lightly as they can fall apart with any vigorous washing and set aside.

Combine the rice vinegar, water and salt to a small sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt.

In a clean mason jar, add the cleaned seedpods and remaining ingredients. Pour the hot liquid ingredients over the seedpods and close the lid. Shake gently to mix everything together, being sure that the seedpods are completely submerged under the liquid.

Allow the seedpods to marinate for at least a day to infuse the flavors. Serve as a garnish for charcuterie, cheese, salads or anywhere you would use a pickled ingredient. These cheese weed capers keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Article and recipes by Jess Starwood and The Wild Path School

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About Jess

Jess Starwood

Jess Starwood is an established author, chef, herbalist and educator. She holds a Masters of Science degree in Herbal Medicine and Holistic Nutrition. In 2021, she wrote and photographed her first book, Mushroom Wanderland: A Forager’s Guide to Finding, Identifying and Using More Than 25 Wild Fungi.

She also writes regularly for Edible Ojai & Ventura County, Edible San Fernando magazines and The Mycophile—the publication of the North American Mycological Association (NAMA).

Jess founded The Wild Path School where she teaches foraging, wild foods, herbalism and nature education classes for adults and children. She is a member of the Culinary Committee for NAMA and is on the board of directors for the Arizona Mushroom Society and the newsletter editor for the Los Angeles Mycological Society. She has also worked as a wild food consultant and forager for Michelin starred chefs Niki Nakayama and Aitor Zabala. Jess has been featured in National Geographic, The Guardian, and the Orange County Register.

Classes and workshops for adults and children are held regularly in the Greater Los Angeles area and west coast. Weekend and week-long wild food adventures are also occasionally available. Be sure to check out the event calendar or join the mailing list to be notified first of openings and availability.