Ever wonder about the origin of the word marshmallow? It sounds like an odd name for a puffy white ball of sucrose and gelatin, but it is actually quite literal — marshmallows were originally made from a mallow plant found growing in swampy areas. Its root contains a gooey substance that was extracted and combined with sugar syrup and egg whites to make the original fireside treat.
The mallow weed found in lawns, garden beds and cracks in the driveway is closely related and contains the same gooey sap, called mucilage. You may notice that its leaves and flowers look like a smaller version of other plants that you're growing intentionally, such as hollyhocks, lavatera, hibiscus and okra, as these are all in the mallow family. The sliminess of cooked okra is due to the same mucilaginous substance found in marshmallows and many other species in the Malvaceae family.
The common, weedy mallow is extremely cold hardy and is often the only green herbaceous plant around in winter. The young leaves are tender and edible raw or cooked, while the flowers make a nice garnish for salads. Mallow's other name — cheeseweed — is derived from its round seed capsules that resemble tiny cheese wheels. They are a readily available substitute for capers.