Monday, 28 July 2008

Hollyhocks and high summer

Hollyhocks are a traditional sight in English gardens in summer, with their tall stalks and huge bell-shaped flowers. They can grow in a variety of soil types and will brighten up even a small back yard in a city home.

In the language of flowers, they are a symbol of fertility and fruitfulness because they produce hundreds of seeds, which they shed abundantly.

Although it is tempting to put a bunch of the flowers on my Lammas festival altar, on August 1, they are better left uncut in the garden as food for insects. Bees, butterflies and moth caterpillars love hollyhocks and it is good to give these endangered species all the help you can.

The hollyhock is an ancient plant - the remains of some were found in the grave of a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal man.

Hollyhocks have been used medicinally. Tea made with the flowers was at one time prescribed to combat diseases of the lungs and bladder, the leaves and flowers are sometimes added to skin lotion and in Tudor times hollyhock roots steeped in wine were thought to help prevent miscarriages. Hollyhock flowers can also be used to produce dye for fabric.

In tales, fairy folk are said to love hollyhocks and will take the blooms to wear as skirts. A recipe of 1660 says that a potion to enable you to see fairies can be made from hollyhock buds mixed with marigolds, wild thyme and young hazel buds.

Hollyhock flowers are edible, you can deep-fry them in batter or use them as an ingredient in cakes. A good cookery book on the subject is Cooking with Flowers by Jekka McVicar and Derek St Romaine, which costs £9.99 from Amazon.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hollyhocks are also a favorite of mine, although the one time I tried to grow them, they didn't do so well.

By the way, thanks for the links in the previous post. I'm trying to think of something Lammas-related to do in celebration, however, we don't have much going where I live. I'll check out the links for ideas.

badwitch said...

I'm going to be posting a few suggestions about things to do for Lammas over the next few days. Personally, I think it is a good excuse for a feast or a party - and a time to thank the gods for good things that have happened this year.