Guest blog. “Celebrating Hollyhocks”, by Christopher Hobbs
The trick is to plant them in the fall in a dry or hot climate (unlike the English countryside where they are amazing). Last summer I planted the seeds in early September. They sprouted in a couple of weeks and I kept them watered and well-fed until the first rains, this year not until December. They steadily grew until by march they were getting quite robust and tall, full of buds. By mid-late April they were taller than the eves on my roof! They were magnificent. On about May 1st the first flowers appeared–pink with white flushes, then dark purple, and finally pure white. They really are a joy.
Did you know that the hollyhock roots (Alcea rosea) can be used in the same ways as marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) In fact many commercial sources of bulk herbs and products likely contain hollyhock roots because they are big and robust and contain the same mucilage (about 50%) so abundant in marshmallow roots. The confectionary, marshmallows were first made by mashing the slimy roots, adding sugar and flour and baking until cakes were made. The first marshmallows were considered medicinal and given to kids and adults alike for soothing sore throats, reducing inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, inflammation and irritation in the digestive tract, diarrhea, and even soothing the urinary tract for various urinary symptoms such as burning and difficult urination. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians, and more modern herbalists have extolled their virtues from more than 2,000 years.
Digging Hollyhocks and using them, food medicine.
If you are growing marshmallow or hollyhocks, after flowering you can dig some of the roots, slice them, and dry thoroughly, making sure they are fully dried inside by snapping a few of the thin slices. Store in canning or other jars in a cool, dark place for use throughout the rest of the year. Once dried, I like to grind the slices to a fine powder in an electric coffee grinder, storing for use as an addition for thickening soups, stews, and for infusions to take with my usual herbs for winter respiratory tract wellenss–elecampane, licorice, ginger all finely powdered and stored in jars. I use 2-3 grams of each, place in a 4-cup pyrex measuring cup, add boiling water, and let steep for 30 minutes or more to drink throughout the day. This really cuts the mucus, and reduces inflammation, brings healing blood and immune effector cells to the whole area to help prevent colds, flu, and the viruses we all know so well–coronaviruses. I wonder if you have every loved hollyhocks and used them for medicine? Reprinted with full permission.
DR. CHRISTOPHER HOBBS is a fourth-generation, internationally renowned herbalist, licensed acupuncturist, author, clinician, botanist, mycologist, and research scientist with over 35 years of experience with herbal medicine. Christopher has a doctorate from UC Berkeley in phylogenetics, evolutionary biology and phytochemistry. He is also a founding member of the American Herbalists Guild.