I happened upon the pale pink flowers in the middle of August in the woods beside the dried-up canal. It seemed such a beautiful plant and I was not sure whether it was a wild flower or a garden escapee which had self-seeded valiantly amongst the bramble and Hemp Agrimony. The pale green-gray leaves were as soft as a puppy’s ear and seemed too fragile to be those of a wild plant.
The flowers reminded me of my Tree Mallow but they were much paler and smaller but the size of the bush was similar.
It even resembles the common mallow which can manage to grow and flower in my parched “lawn” against seemingly impossible odds.
Like my Hibiscus syriacus, or Althea, they all belong to the family Malvaceae. They all are are able to survive in dry and sometimes inhospitable conditions. One of the reasons is their long tap roots.
I eventually discovered that it is indeed a wild flower Althaea officianalis or guimauve as it is called in France.
It is their long tap-roots that were first used to make marshmallow or guimauve (as it is called in France) and the name has stuck to the much more widely known modern confectionary of the same name. The dried and powdered root can be combined with sugar and water to make a sweet paste or the roots can be soaked in cold water to extract the mucilage that was originally used to make marshmallows in France.
In fact most of the plant is comestible and apparently the flowers and leaves can be added to salads. I found this idea quite appealing and I liked the idea of foraging for my own salad (I am not sure why, as there is enough in the garden). In the interest of furthering my practical knowledge I decided to try some of the young leaves. This required a certain amount of dedication on my part as they are somewhat furry. These downy hairs may be a marvellous adaptation on the part of the plant to reduce water loss but they are not particularly palatable.
The tasting was disappointing. Please feel free to try yourself but I found them completely tasteless. Perhaps I should have infused them and made some tea which I could have drunk or used as a face lotion! All the parts of the plants appear to have a medicinal use, both the roots and the leaves producing soothing mucilage.
Of course, what also attracted me to the flowers in the first place was the bees. They were particularly shy and flighty individuals. From the photograph it appears that the flowers are supplying nectar in addition to the pollen.
The bees were beautiful and I was taken with the lilac pink colour of their pollen sacs which they were filling up with a generous quantity of pollen.
Not so much marshmallow, more miniature candy floss.