From Guimauve to marshmallows

Flowers in the wood

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.

Tree Lavatera

The flowers reminded me of my Tree Mallow but they were much paler and smaller but the size of the bush was similar.

Common Mallow, Malva neglecta

It even resembles the common mallow which can manage to grow and flower in my parched “lawn” against seemingly impossible odds.

Hibiscus syriacus

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.

Althaea officinalis or Guimauve sauvage

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.

Tender but downy leaves

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.

Bee gathering pollen

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.

Pink pollen sacs

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.

Pollen confectionery

Not so much marshmallow, more miniature  candy floss.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “From Guimauve to marshmallows

  1. I love Hibiscus syriacus because they are such undemanding plants and cope with the drought so well. Today I bought a pure white hibiscus from a plant fair in Rome. I did enjoy the story about the hisdtory of marshmallow, I hadn’t made the conection before. Christina

    Like

    • Good luck with your Hibiscus syriacus, I’ve got a lot in my garden and they are really tough plants, but beautiful. I have not got a pure white one but some white with reddish centres which I think are more common. Amelia

      Like

  2. These are indeed lovely plants. They remind me of hollyhocks which are also of course altheas. I really dislike the trend for double hollyhocks here. It is quite difficult to find single ones. The bees love the singles and can’t do anything with the doubles.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s