Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
The hollyhock, Alcea rosea (syn. Althaea chinensis, Althaea ficifolia and Althaea rosea), was a favorite of Victorian gardeners. The name hollyhock is derived from the Old English holy hoc – the old word hoc meaning mallow. Other names by which this plant is known include Althaea rose, malva flowers and rose mallow (a name which is also used for the related musk mallow). It is not related to the rose.
It’s believed that the hollyhock, a native of the Middle East, was introduced by returning Crusaders, which may explain how it came by the name “holy hoc”. They look great thrusting towards the sky in the flower garden, and come in very many different colors, in both single and double flowered forms.
Hollyhocks are usually treated as biennials – plants which take 2 years to reach flowering stage, although they are in fact short-lived perennials. However, if you want to be sure to have them in the garden every year, it will be best to sow 2 years in a row, after which you may well find that self seeding has occurred.
The hollyhock is a tall thin plant, and can reach a height of 8 feet (2.5m), though 6-7 feet is more usual. I like them scattered about in the middle of smaller plants as they are thin enough not to block the view of other plants behind them, but if you prefer your plantings graded by height, put them near the back.
All parts of the hollyhock are edible, though the leaves are not very palatable. Flowers, flowerbuds and peeled stems can be used in salads, and tea made from petals. The roots can be used as a starchy vegetable.
Hollyhocks are also very useful medicinally, although often overlooked in favor of the related marsh mallow, which has similar properties. However, as this is a plant often grown just because it is so different, for ornamental purposes, it’s worth including – personally I prefer it to the true marsh mallow in the flower garden, and I expect others agree with me in this. There’s just something about a hollyhock in flower that brings a smile to one’s lips and lightens the heart, rather like enormous sunflowers – is it to do with height? Perhaps they make us feel like children again, who knows.
Flowers, collected when open, shoots, roots and seeds are all used medicinally for various purposes.
- a standard infusion
- Add 30g of dried flowers or 3 handfuls of fresh to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain.
- a decoction
- Add 30g of dried flowers to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water, bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, then strain.
Make a standard infusion of seeds using 2 tsp to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz), boiling water. Stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours and strain.
Finally a poultice can be made using crushed roots or a mixture of crushed roots and flowers mixed with boiling water and wrapped in a closely woven bandage (wrung out), which is applied to the area to be treated. Keep the liquid on the heat and refresh the bandage by dipping it into the liquid and squeezing out excess liquid and reapplying.
Use a standard infusion of flowers to treat chest complaints and topically to reduce inflammations of the mouth and throat (swish the liquid around the mouth, or gargle with it, as appropriate), cystitis and gastritis. Use a decoction of flowers to treat painful periods, constipation and poor circulation.
Shoots are supposed to be helpful as a birthing aid, but how to use them I have no idea – perhaps an infusion.
A standard infusion of seeds is used as a diuretic and to reduce fevers.
The poultice is used to treat open sores and external ulcers.
As you can see, hollyhocks are a useful remedy, but as with all medicinal plants, they must be grown organically to ensure that their constituents are not corrupted or entirely eliminated by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic hollyhocks visit the Gardenzone.