Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Hollyhocks: homage paid to wonderful biennial

Hollyhocks are in full flower here in the northern Rockies, as autumn approaches.


Hollyhocks against the Beartooth Mountains -- a glorious sight.

MY GRANDMOTHER Olive loved hollyhocks. She was my mother's mum, and lived next door. She taught me to separate and save flower seeds each fall. Revered among her many flowers were the faithful hollyhocks. Dad's mother, Grannie Annie, loved her lilacs, too.
I remember a large crystal bowl filled with those soft, circular blossoms -- sometimes a clutch of all-whites, other times a profusion of pinks, purples, reds.
Sometimes we'd make dollies -- using upside down blooms for skirts and fashioning heads from buds yet to fully open. Add a few toothpicks and a felt marker to "glue" them together and craft faces.
Moisten and warm hollyhock leaves and you'll have a
poultice to help heal cuts or sooth arthritis.
THEY REMAIN my favorites of the old-fashioned plants I've raised here in the northern Rockies, to remind me of my Montana childhood.
Hollyhocks -- with their lofty spires --  are my definitive old-fashioned garden plant. These tall, stately flowers used to tower over me in  both grandmothers' gardens.
I'd look up at them and see faces.
"HOW DO you do, little Cookie?" Gran Olive would throw her voice behind the splendid array by the fence.
This pollen covered bee is having a field day in a single hollyhock blossom.
A bit of hollyhock homework tells me the graceful plant is from Eurasia. Its Middle Eastern heritage makes it versatile as well as pretty.
Taken internally, Hollyhock is soothing to the gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary tracts in the human body. It promotes urination, soothes ulcers and relieves a dry cough. When you have a sore throat, try a cold infusion of hollyhock.
To make, simply gather a handful of fresh flowers or leaves (you can use dried) and fill the center of a square of cheesecloth. Wrap the sides up to form a crude tea bag, tie with string or dental floss and drop in a jar of water. Drape the string over the edge and use the lid to hold your "bag" in place. Keep your "bag" submerged, leave out overnight then refrigerate. Use infusion within a day or so.
Hollyhock dolls are a family tradition. 
I'VE SEEN hollyhocks in fancy wedding bouquets and neglected hedges. Cultivated from Egypt to the southern U.S. and elsewhere, the plant with the large showy flowers is usually a biennial.  They grow only foliage the first year and flower the next.
You can also make a hollyhock doll with a little imagination and a few toothpicks.
Look deeply into the hollyhock blossom and see a face.
I've been scavenging hollyhock seeds worldwide for decades.There are many varieties of blossoms and several different leaves. Turkish Wild is a rare hollyhock species with elegant, soft orchid, saucer-shaped flowers from May to September. If you allow these gorgeous biennials to clump and seeds to fall, you'll have years of enjoyment.
Today, the lofty spires on our Hollyhock plants are covered with large frilled flowers in beautiful colors.  Bees love them. So do I. Thanks, Gran.

UP NEXT:  From hollyhocks, to "Lilac."  No, not the plant, but the restaurant in downtown Billings. Farm fresh produce and locally sourced meats pair with homemade breads and gnocchi for fabulous fare.  We talk with the inventive Montana born chef and sample the ever changing menu.  Remember to explore, learn and live, and check us out Wednesdays and weekends at www.whereiscookie.com

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