Many people don’t realize that the common garden flower, Hollyhock, is completely edible – root, leaves and blossoms – and useful for more than just its charming looks. It’s a direct relation to Marshmallow and can be used interchangeably for that herb; the primary exception being that Hollyhocks have woodier and tougher roots, and are less palatable for eating purposes than Marshmallow’s softer roots.
One thing to remember about this plant is that high heat and alcohol can denature some of the healing properties, so, for the most part, avoid those two methods of preparing or preserving Hollyhock.
Here are my favorite five uses for Hollyhocks:
1. A cold infusion:
Taken internally, Hollyhock is soothing to the gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary tracts in the human body. It promotes urination, soothes ulcers and can help relieve a dry cough. When you have a very sore throat and it’s hard to swallow, try a cold infusion of Hollyhock.
To make, simply gather a handful of fresh flowers or leaves (you can use dried also) and fill the center of a square of cheesecloth. Wrap the sides up to form a crude tea bag of sorts and tie with a string. (I use unwaxed dental floss.) Drape the string over the edge and use the lid to hold it in place. You want to keep it submerged near the top of the water. Leave in place overnight then remove your makeshift bag, refrigerate your infusion, and use within a day or so.
2. A poultice:
Hollyhock can be used externally as a poultice for chapped skin, splinters, areas of painful inflammation and swellings. Because of the thickness of the leaves, it is most useful to lightly steam them first to make them more flexible. Apply to the area while still very warm, following with a towel for insulation then strips of cloth to hold the poultice in place.
3. An Old Fashioned Hollyhock Doll:
This is not an herbal use, but a fun thing to show the kids! To make, find a small bud and carefully peel away the green underside. You will reveal a tiny “face” with eyes; this will be the head of your doll. Take a fully opened flower, turn upside down and secure the head to it with a toothpick. Now your doll has a beautiful dress with a full ruffled skirt! Add additional toothpick halves for the arms. This simple dolly is completely non-toxic so can even be used to decorate food and drink, as long as you are sure the child is old enough to be careful with the toothpicks.
4. A Soap!
(You probably knew this one was coming!) I turn every beneficial thing growing around here into a soap, Hollyhock being no exception! I used an infusion of Hollyhock for the water part of my recipe and added a tiny pinch of rose clay for color – an easy way to personalize your favorite basic soap recipe. Click here for the recipe!
5. In the Garden:
Hollyhocks are so easy to grow and so pretty to look at, why not try your hand at growing (and using!) some this year? Mine were handed down to me by my mother, but a great place for pure, untreated, heirloom seeds is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
They’re very drought resistant and do well in poor, hard soils – which is a bonus for me, because as a general rule, the dirt around here is pretty much red clay. Not only do my Hollyhocks come back year after year, they have thrived in a section of my yard that contains such hard dirt, I have to enlist the help of my husband’s muscles just to dig in the area. These are fun for kids to grow too; an especial bonus being that Hollyhocks are a preferred host for Painted Lady Butterflies.
I hope this post has not just opened your eyes to some lesser known uses of Hollyhock, but also will encourage you to look around and find the hidden treasures in everything growing around you. A little research and a bit of experimentation and you never know what amazing thing you will find out next!