a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

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.

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

10 thoughts on “From Guimauve to marshmallows

  1. Lovely to see the pollen coated bees! You were brave to try the leaves and at least now your curiosity is satisfied, if not your taste buds!


  2. A Joy! Thank-you.


  3. Love the bees, especially the blurry one!


  4. 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


    • 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


  5. 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.


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