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Permaculture Main Crops of Special Importance – Salad Mallow

Salad Mallow (Corchorus olitorius)

(Mulaheyah, Egyptian Spinach, Jews Mallow)

Salad Mallow was the first name I knew for this amazing plant and it arrived into our extremely diverse selection of kitchen garden zone one crops in a seed packet from Shipards Herb Farm, Nambour, Queensland, Australia. Isabell Shipard has been a good friend, fellow permaculturist, and an incredible wealth of knowledge on herbs and useful plants for over 25 years – therefore, this little packet of seeds came from a very trusted source and, as usual, came with an information sheet that made it sound like it could possibly be a valuable addition if it was going to be reasonably easy to grow.

One of the main factors in selecting permaculture main crops is that they grow without much effort. This is often my first consideration. The second consideration is if they are of high value as a food and beneficial to our health. Third, can they be stored with extended shelf life for consumption off season – especially if they are an annual? Salad Mallow meets all the required criteria and should be considered as a Permaculture main crop of great value. The first plants we grew demonstrated great strength and obvious vigor that stood out in the diversity of our kitchen garden, which is also a crop testing ground.

As most people around the world would not be familiar with this valuable plant as food and probably would not even recognize it, there is a good chance it would not be taken seriously as a main crop food. If people are not familiar with a plant and they do not know any recipes for how to cook it or use it fresh as food, even if they are told it has great nutritional and health qualities, they are often dubious and unlikely to use it or take it seriously. People are very biased in regard to their food and traditional diets and it can be very hard to introduce new food elements into a culture even if they are exceptionally easy to grow and have very high quality in nutrition and storage ability. The Permaculture Nation needs to take this problem on as a mission to break this mould. If we are going to take control of our lives, and particularly our food supply, which is a major contributor to our health and the health of the global environment, we are going to need to diversify our food crops simply because it is going to make the job SO much easier. Interactive diversity creates the possibility of a stable and dynamic, flexible system that has the highest degree of resilience to unexpected change.

Salad Mallow is a traditional and very sentimental main crop of Jordan where it is called ‘mulaheyah’. While working in Jordan on permaculture projects I realized that this was not just an odd garden vegetable but a main crop with large fields planted out. Large quantities are sold fresh in the shops in big bundles of long stemmed plants in the early- to mid-summer months. Women sit together plucking the leaves from the stems to use fresh, and carefully dry them by spreading them out and regularly turning over a few days so that it can kept through the year and eaten when fresh plants are not available. It is said to have been grown from ancient times and was food of the Pharaohs in Egypt and is a favored food of Sudan. I have seen it grown as far south as Tanzania, although its origin is said to be India.

Salad Marrow Seed Pods

After seeing so much interest by local people in growing this plant as a serious main crop I decided to research its qualities in detail and trial larger planting areas. The planted germinates very easily from seed directly in the soil once the daily average temperature reaches over 20’C (68’F). In Jordan it is planted very close, like a field of grain crop, and rows rapidly grow tall, thin and straight to one meter high over the summer months. If it is grown as an individual plant in a mixed garden it grows into a bushy wide form. It is usually harvested as soon as the plants get to full height and is cut about 150mm above the ground. It then shoots again and can be harvest three times over a season – the first harvest being the best then successively smaller in leaf quality. The flowers are small and yellow with five petals; the seed capsules look like small okra pods 5mm wide and 30mm long, and once they turn brown they can be collected for seed – an average of 300 tiny seeds 1mm in size.

This plant, which looks quite innocent and quite insignificant in appearance and could easily be mistaken for a weed is actually a treasure house of healthy food elements. It is well known for being: 20.4% green leaf protein, and very high in the mineral potassium – 3068mg per 100 grams – which is probably the highest in any garden crop you can grow. Also calcium 1432mg, phosphorus 703mg, magnesium 284mg, sulphur 235mg, sodium 12mg, silica 8mg, iron 7mg, zinc 4mg, manganese 3mg.

Vitamins: A at 3500 IU per 100 grams of leaves, C 64mg, plus B1, B2, B3. It is also considered to be a tonic, anti-diarrheal, anti-tussive, demulcent, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and digestive. The leaves can be eaten as a salad or cooked as spinach; they can also be dried stored and made into a tea as a tonic or re-hydrated for cooking when needed.

The versatility of this crop, combined with its nutritional value and the fact that it is extremely easy to grow and its extended storage capability make this an ideal main crop addition to the list of permaculture main crops of special importance.

Your health is related to the available minerals in the fresh food growing in your permaculture garden, and diversity is the key.

Traditional Salad Mallow Recipes:

This dish could be vegetarian or with meat. You could cook it two different ways:

1. Ingredients: 1 small chicken, water (enough to cover the meat), 500 grams of leaves (chopped finely, weighed after chopping), spice (salt to taste, 2 bay leaves, 3-4 cardamom pods, 1 stick cinnamon, 1/2 tbsp. nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. turmeric or saffron, 1 tbsp. ground black pepper), 2 tomatoes, 1 lemon, 3 tbsp. olive oil, 1 onion, 4-5 cloves of garlic.

Prep: cut the chicken in half or quarter, give it a good wash (squeeze 1/2 lemon juice with 1 tsp. olive oil on chicken to deeply clean it) chop the onion finely, put it in a saucepan with 2 tbsp. olive oil, put on stove on regular flame, add the chicken, add the spice and stir for a couple of minutes. Leave for ten minutes. Add water, enough to cover the chicken. Leave to cook for around 20 minutes, until the meat is cooked, check with a fork. Chop the garlic while the chicken cooks, chop the tomatoes, put the garlic in a frying pan with a tbsp. of olive oil, stir the garlic over high flame until it gets a bit of color, add the tomatoes and leave to cook for 10 minutes over a low flame while stirring the tomatoes (make sure to mash them). Add salad mallow to the cooking chicken, stir it in well and squeeze the lemon over it and also add the whole lemon in after squeezing it. Next add the cooked tomatoes, stir it in and every 3-4 minutes and skim off the foam. Leave to cook for 15 more minutes.

Serve with rice or bread.

2. The same recipe as above but salad mallow leaves are not chopped.