A long-lasting season of colour, beautiful flowers that come in a whole rainbow of colours, great architectural height and easy to grow once established. Even its names, Hollyhock or Alcea Rosea, are quite charming.
Plus you can moisturise with it, drink the seeds and flowers as a herbal tea, and even apply it directly to skin to benefit from the healing properties. Every part of the plant is useful, edible or both, although not necessarily palatable! The leaves and stems, for example, are quite tough and fibrous. But the flowers are beautiful as edible cake and fruit salad decoration, and the roots can be treated in the same way as root vegetables.
I have always loved seeing the tall spikes of flowers scattered through other summer country-cottage favourites in a garden, but I’d somehow overlooked that it is also a very useful plant.
How many gentle flowers grow in an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now, of some that I know, and those I miss I hope you’ll pardon.
Daffodils, hearts-ease and flocks, meadow sweet and lilies, stocks,
Gentle lupins and tall hollyhocks,
Roses, fox-gloves, snowdrops, forget-me-knots in an English country garden.
(Lyrics from the old English song, An English Country Garden).
It is actually closely related to the Marshmallow, a plant which I know has a whole host of health benefits. So I suppose it should have been obvious that there might be a bit more to the Hollyhock than just pretty flowers! And it is one of those plants that have been being used for centuries, for its healing properties. Back in ancient Greece, those suffering with dysentery were administered hollyhock, and it was also used to treat wounds.
The roots have proven strong anti-inflammatory properties, useful in treating skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. It is also very soothing. Minor burns and blisters can be treated with the bruised roots and stems of hollyhock, which aid healing, whilst easing pain and inflammation. There are so many ways to use hollyhock, and the ones I’ve included here just give a tiny taster.
I’d always thought of it as a quintessentially English plant. But having read a little about the origins of the hollyhock, it turns out that it was originally from south-west and central Asia! It is not something I’ve seen in Brunei, although there are trees (which I have yet to identify!) with flowers that look quite similar. I like the feeling of reassuring continuity that something that feels so much a part of home and England, is actually also very much a part of my current home. It’s definitely a plant that earns its place in the garden, wherever you are in the world.