Euphorbia is a diverse plant genus consisting of more than 2000 species with worldwide distribution, chiefly in subtropical and temperate regions. Some species have thick succulent stems and are spiny, closely resembling cacti. They are distinguishably different by their peculiar flower and milky latex that contains irritant and carcinogenic diterpine esters.

Though there are few case reports in literature, it is apparent from them that ocular changes follow a typical course, and the severity of the ocular inflammation may vary with the species of the plant. Symptoms usually start immediately on contact with the milky latex. There is burning sensation, pain, photophobia and lacrimation which may worsen over hours even after copious irrigation. At first, there is mild diminution of vision, but may diminish further to 20/200 or counting fingers to hand movements within 24 h as Case 2 in this report. On initial examination, the corneal epithelium may be intact or with mild punctate epitheliopathy, but eventually it may show frank epithelial defect on the next day. It takes around four to seven days for the epithelium to heal completely. There is stromal edema with Descemet’s fold which decreases with time. The degree of anterior uveitis is variable and is particularly marked with certain species as in Case 1 and Case 3 in this report. The degree of ocular inflammation may also vary with the amount of sap that enters the eye. Neglected cases can progress to blindness due to corneal scarring, complicated uveitis, and anterior staphyloma.

The species of Euphorbia causing ocular toxicity reported earlier were mostly with E. royaleana, E. lathyris and E. tirucalli. Only one case of ocular toxicity with E. trigona was reported earlier by Scott et al. and they reported only corneal epithelial defect without edema and anterior chamber reaction. But in our Case 1, there was gross corneal edema with moderate anterior uveitis and secondary elevated IOP. This was possibly due to a greater amount of sap entering into the RE in our case. There was only one case report on E. milii by Eke et al. and the patient presented with corneal epithelial defect and edema with mild anterior uveitis which was similar to our third case. To the best of our knowledge which includes MEDLINE search, we could not find any case report of ocular toxicity by the sap of E. neriifolia (Indian Spurge tree). If the patient presents early within 24 h, the treatment is antibiotic eye drops, topical corticosteroids, cycloplegics, tears substitute and IOP-lowering medications if necessary. No patching is required. With appropriate supportive therapy and close daily observation, the condition generally resolves completely within 10-15 days. In case of suspected bacterial infection and in the presence of a hypopyon, topical corticosteroids may be started later once the epithelial defect gets healed.

In conclusion, the clinical course may be affected by particular species of Euphorbia, the amount of sap exposure, the time between exposure and irrigation, and host factors. Ophthalmologists managing Euphorbia keratouveitis should warn the patient that vision may get worse on the next day before it improves. It is always advisable to ask the patient to bring a sample of the plant for identification. People who work with Euphorbia species should wear protective goggles while handling the plant.

Poisonous Plants – First Aid

Whats in our Garden – Good the Bad and the Ugly

Pets, and Children love to explore which means everything in the garden looks interesting – snails, clumps of dirt, flowers and foliage, mushrooms, snail pellets.

Knowledge about dangerous plants and poisonous plants may help you keep your loved ones safe in the garden.

Avoiding growing poisonous plants and dangerous plants. Fence off or remove any suspect plants that may harm either children, pets or yourself.

HLTAID003 Provide First aid with CPR will help you with the first aid if you or a loved one comes into contact with one of these nasty plants.

Highly poisonous plants: plants to destroy or remove

Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis): this is a common self-sown weed with toxic seeds, flowers and leaves. Chewing and swallowing a few seeds can cause severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Coral tree (Erythrina genus): the leaves, bark and seeds are poisonous. The seeds are particularly toxic for children and can cause shortness of breath, cyanosis (when the skin gets a blue tint because there’s not enough oxygen in the blood), weakness and light-headedness.

Common or pink oleander (Nerium oleander) and yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana): every part of these shrubs, including the seeds, is poisonous. Symptoms include staggering, vomiting, diarrhoea, irregular heart beat, dilated pupils and coma leading to death.

Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna): the attractive round purple/black berries on this plant are highly toxic. Eating the berries can cause drowsiness, facial flushing, fever, vomiting, confusion and hallucinations.

Rhus or wax tree (Toxicodendron succedaneum): this plant can trigger strong allergic reactions in many people, causing rashes, redness, itchiness and blisters over the course of a week or longer.

Avoid contact, even contact with clothing or tools, or exposure to sawdust or ash from the plant. Wear protective clothing when removing the plant. White cedar tree (Melia azedarach): this is a native tree. Eating the fruits can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, confusion, coma and seizures.

Dangerous plants to avoid

Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia genus): the flowers, seeds and nectar are very poisonous.

Arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica): all parts of the plant can cause irritation and pain in the mouth when chewed.

Belladonna lily, naked lady (Amaryllis belladonna): the sap and bulb are toxic.

Cacti and other succulents (fleshy plants): cuts or damage eyes on the spikes.

Chillies: Putting a chilli in your mouth or touching one then rubbing your eyes, it could be quite unpleasant or even painful.

Daphne: all parts of this popular ornamental shrub are poisonous, especially the attractive berries.

Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia genus): eating this plant can irritate the mouth and cause swelling, although it won’t do any permanent damage.

Euphorbia genus: the sap from these common plants can cause severe pain and injury to the eye. Also known as spurge and milkweed, this genus includes Poinsettia, a popular Christmas plant.

Hemlock (poison parsley) and water hemlock (cowbane): these are commonly found toxic plants.

Lantana: all parts of this flowering shrub, especially the green berries, can cause stomach pains, jaundice and muscular weakness.

Mushrooms and toadstools: although most of the toxic species – such as death caps and the red and white fly agaric – are found in forests and park rather than backyards, there are many poisonous species.
It’s worth clearing all mushrooms or toadstools from your garden.

Children and Gardens

Poison Prevention

Euphorbia, Beautiful but Sometimes Dangerous


When you trim ANY Euphorbia variety – and there are many lovely ones among the 2000 or so species in the Genus –

Be Careful not to get the latex like sap that bleeds from cut stems onto your hands or face

……and Oh my Goodness, Don’t rub your eyes !

……and clean your clothing and tools thoroughly.

  • Many different kinds of Euphorbias have somewhat recently become readily available to gardeners everywhere. In general, their beauty, hardiness and the ease of successfully growing these plants make alot of their varieties ever more popular.
  • With substantially increased use of garden forms of this Genus, there are more people exposed to the potential of an allergic reaction.
    Please make your friends and neighbors aware of this possible drawback, and tell them to be careful………especially if you notice they already have some Euphorbia relatives in their landscapes. Some ‘bleed’ less sap than others, but forewarned is forearmed.
  • I have been handling these plants for years, as have many assistants and clients, and have never had any allergic response to them, but apparently while some people can handle these plants with no problems at all, other people will react violently to the latex like sap that bleeds out when the plants are cut. It has been reported that some people may also react after touching the plant bodies themselves, even uncut.
  • Sometimes the area of the eyes can be especially sensitive. As in the case of some insect stings for people with sensitivity to them, there may be swelling, and this can be particularly upsetting and dangerous in the face and throat areas.
  • I recently witnessed this Dire effect. Not having had any treatment, the person affected became hugely swollen all around the face and eyes. In her case, she went to her Doctor and subsequently Benadryl ™ helped to resolve the symptoms. Since then I have been made anecdotally aware of others who have had similar, if less extreme, painful and disturbing reactions.
  • Since the individual affected most strongly also has an allergy to bee stings, those of you that share that sensitivity may want to be especially careful.
  • Any of you who would not want to run the risk of having a reaction may prefer not to grow any Euphorbias.
  • If you have children of ages where all the world is a tasting opportunity, it will be safer not to grow this Genus, at least until the children are older and wiser. My sister liked sand at an early age, but some children are plant tasters.
    What to do If……..
  • If you are exposed, at your local pharmacy you can find a product called Tecnu®, which should be applied to the area of contact before you wash.
    Its job is to take up the oils on the skin after exposure to Poison Ivy or Poison Oak, and it can similarly help many people after contact with Euphorbia sap. It is also used also to clean the clothes and tools involved when the exposure occurred.
    If Tecnu® isn’t readily available and you have a bar of Fels Naptha® soap handy under your sink, Fels Naptha is reputed to have a better effect than other commonly available kinds of soaps. Could it be the bit of Lye in it?
  • If you are a gardener or landscape person who is likely to be exposed to any of these plant irritants, it may be best to consult your Physician beforehand for medicine to have on hand in case of an allergic response.
    Even some people who are not sensitive to Poison Ivy or Poison Oak may still react to Euphorbias.
  • Its good to keep some Tecnu where you can get it quickly, perhaps in your first aid kits, just in case. Tecnu®

So Why Grow Them?
Because there are many wonderful things about Euphorbias to consider.

  • Most people would agree that Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are beautiful and useful in ways that no other plant can quite replicate. It is the same for ‘garden’ varieties of Euphorbias.
  • Among the many other very remarkable kinds of Euphorbias, some have a particular niche in our green world that few other plants can occupy.
  • And the Deer don’t typically eat them, Yay !…….. Probably precisely because of the irritant in their sap.

Euphorbia graminea Diamond Frost

This lovely floriferous annual is perhaps the single most useful ingredient I have in my repertoire of plant elements for container plantings. It contributes an airy and cooling quality to any planted grouping in which it is incorporated, growing between other materials gracefully, blending them together without disturbing their growth. When other kinds of plants lean with the weight of their summer flowers, E. Diamond Frost will become increasingly vertical (and wider too) through the growing season, continously flowering with very minimal trimming, flattering all the plants with which it resides. It is heat and drought tolerant, tough in character but delicate in appearance, a winning combination.
This one does not return in our zone, but I scramble to get it from the nurseries each year so as to be sure to have it on hand when I am making up my container compositions.

Euphorbia cyparissias

Euphorbia cyparissias is beautiful and valuable in the landscape nearly all season. Many self sown generations of this plant have been happily occupying the ledge of wild things on my street for more than 30 years, with no attention whatsoever. That was how we first met, and I just had to find out who that lovely plant was.

  • The colors of the stems, leaf bracts and flowers contribute to its beauty, but it is in foliage texture and overall adaptability to inhospitable locations that this plant excels, as do many of its relatives. In driveways, ledge pockets and other marginally habitable places, these can be of use. Though individual plants are small, the many tenanted colonies make a broad and satisfying visual statement.
  • The ‘flowers’ of Cousin Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are modified leaf parts, so with that precedent I include E. chamaecyparissias in my long flowering self sowers list. I value these feathery plants as much as any otherwise floriferous treasure.
  • E. cyparissias Fen’s Ruby is an especially beautiful form with its mahogany and lime florets through April and May. Equally importantly, the feathery leaved colonies look excellent for many months with one trimming at most (*** Now be careful of the sap !).
    If you prefer, you don’t have to trim them at all, just pull out any plants that brown up, leaving the ones that are green and fresh looking. That is how I usually proceed with them.
  • Each plant is from a few inches up to 18” high, depending on the ecology inhabited. Their bluegreen color and soft texture contribute a great deal to the beauty of the sunny to semi-sunny places where they like to grow. If you have ½ day sun and some stone crevices, and site them where you don’t mind an expanding colony, you will probably enjoy their appearance and self sustaining capabilities very much.……………………………………………………………………..
    Euphorbia dulcis Chameleon

    E. chameleon has been popping up here and there throughout my perennial plantings since I introduced it into my gardens 10 years or so ago. Mahogany leaves at 18″ high dress up garden beds by their contrast against greens, while lyrically echoing the coloration of red Maples and other sundry plants with related russet hues in their foliage and flowers. Appearing in some new places each year because of their naturalising tendencies, they add enhancing surprises to the landscape. They are not nearly as prolific as E. cyparissias in offspring, but you will have quite a few most likely since they are ecologically easy to please, and so seed into a variety of habitats. The minute they don’t look nice, I trim them to the crown, and they dont seem to mind too awfully much, reliably returning.
    When there are too many I edit some out, usually leaving the young ones and deleting the older individuals as they become rooty with age.

Your Guide To Poisonous Plants

All plants may seem harmless in their natural state, but when you really get to know them, there are some species that just aren’t safe and can cause extreme illness or even death in humans. And since we’re surrounded by plants each and every day (just step outside and you’ll see!), we want you to know which kinds to stay away from; take a look at the guide we’ve put together on some of the top poisonous plants below.


  • Where they grow: Poison hemlock plants are often found in areas where forest land has been cleared.
  • What’s poisonous: All parts of hemlock plants are poisonous.
  • Symptoms: When eaten, hemlock poisoning may cause abdominal cramps, nausea, convulsions and potentially death. Those who are poisoned but survive may experience tremors or amnesia. Additionally, those with sensitive skin may experience skin inflammation as a result of touching a hemlock plant.


  • Where they grow: Nightshade plants are native to central and southern Eurasia, and are found in fields.
  • What’s poisonous: All parts of nightshade plants are poisonous, with the unripened berry being especially dangerous.
  • Symptoms: If eaten, deadly nightshade plants can cause digestive problems and may be fatal. Furthermore, touching a deadly nightshade plant can result in symptoms such as rashes if the skin has exposed cuts.


  • Where they grow: Moonseed plants are most commonly found in wooded areas.
  • What’s poisonous: The berries of moonseed plants are toxic – they may resemble wild grapes, so don’t be fooled!
  • Symptoms: If eaten, moonseed plants have the potential to be fatal.


  • Where they grow: Oleander plants are often found in southern and coastal states, and commonly grow in schoolyards.
  • What’s poisonous: All parts of oleander plants are toxic, with an emphasis on the leaves and branches.
  • Symptoms: Poisoning as a result of eating an oleander plant can cause severe digestive problems, seizures, comas and even death. Additionally, those that touch the leaves on an oleander plant may experience skin irritation.

Poison Ivy

  • Where they grow: In the United States, poison ivy plants can be found everywhere except for California, Hawaii and Alaska.
  • What’s poisonous: When bruised, burned or damaged, the leaves of poison ivy plants release an oil that is responsible for causing a reaction.
  • Symptoms: Touching poison ivy may cause a rash, bumps, blisters, swelling and itching within a few days. Although it is not contagious between humans and will not spread by scratching, if the oil sticks to clothes, pets or other nearby items, you may experience symptoms if you touch those items too.


  • Where they grow: Native to Asia and North America, wisteria plants are most commonly found in southern and southwestern regions.
  • What’s poisonous: Although the entire plant is technically toxic, some believe that the flowers the plant produces are not. Most importantly, stay away from the seeds and pods.
  • Symptoms: After eating all or part of a wisteria plant, you may experience cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

How To Protect Yourself From Poisonous Plants

Since unfortunately, there are a collection of plants that can be poisonous to humans, it’s important to know how to protect yourself from being harmed. Especially if you’ll be out camping or somewhere where a ton of plant species may be present, something simple you can do is keep yourself covered at all times – that means, pack long sleeves and pants!

Additionally, if you come across a plant that looks consumable but isn’t identified, don’t eat it! Even if it looks safe, unless you are 110% sure, your best bet is to avoid consuming it at all costs.

Plants poisonous to cats and dogs should not be kept around your home for the safety of your pets. Dogs and cats don’t usually know what things make them sick, so their curious nature occasionally gets the best of them. Some houseplants and outdoor plants can be dangerous for dogs—even deadly—so make sure you know before you grow.

Although this is probably not a complete and exhaustive list, it does cover many plants that many people enjoy around their house. Even though these are toxic, they may not pose a problem simply by their presence, but you should be aware of their potential to harm your pets if the exposure route and level are just right.

There are those who would say, to be safe, if it is not an herb, a fruit or a vegetable, assume it is toxic until you prove otherwise.

Local Available Plants Poisonous To Cats And Dogs

Of the plants on this list, those plants listed in boldface print are types of plant toxicity treated at the Plantation Pet Health Center in Frisco, Texas by Doc Martin:

Selected Poisonous (Toxic) Plants To Avoid

Carolina Jasmine Toxicity in Pets

All parts of the plant can contain toxic alkaloids. Eating just one flower has reportedly been lethal to children or pets. The plant can also cause skin allergies in some people and it is possible that the plant toxins can be absorbed through the skin, especially if there are cuts. Symptoms include sweating, nausea, muscular weakness, dilated pupils, lowered temperature, convulsions, respiratory failure.

Christmas Rose Toxicity in Pets

This plant is moderately toxic most often presenting with intestinal upset symptoms, but can have worse symptoms if large amounts are ingested.

Mistletoe Toxicity in Pets

This plant can be very toxic and potentially fatal, especially the European variety. The main organ system affected is the heart; however, most common ingestion of the American mistletoe usually results in mild stomach and intestinal upset.

Poinsettia Toxicity in Pets

The true level of the toxicity of these plants has been exaggerated. This plant is more often an irritant rather than a truly toxic plant. Signs most often reported when this plant is ingested are vomiting or diarrhea, anorexia, and depression.

Sago Palm Toxicity in Pets

Although they are very attractive plants that do fairly well in our climate, many people do not realize just how deadly the Sago Palm can be. During the summer months of 2009 we lost 2 patients to Sago Palm toxicity despite early aggressive medical care that included treatment at a specialty center. We at PPHC wanted to make people aware just how toxic and deadly these plants are for animals. The entire plant is toxic: seeds, leaves, bark, meat, etc. The seeds seem to be a bit more toxic than the rest but the difference is insignificant to most animals. The plant causes a sudden aggressive inflammation and failure of the liver. Even if the owner catches their pet in the act of eating the plant, induces vomiting, gets treated with activated charcoal and IV fluids, the chances of survival are still very poor. Both patients we saw that had succumbed to this plant appeared to get better initially and then there was almost a “second wave” of liver failure that led to their demise. If you have Sagos, and you want to keep them, please try moving them to a section of the yard where your pets never go, or provide barriers for your pets that they cannot get past.

Non-Toxic (Safe) Houseplants

  • African Violet
  • Air plants
  • Areca Palm
  • Baby Rubber Plant
  • Lemon Butter Fern
  • Orchids
  • Peperomia
  • Ponytail Palm
  • Prayer Plant
  • Spider Plant
  • Succulents (Echeveria, Kalanchoe)
  • Zebra Plant

If you would like to learn more about the Plantation Pet Health Center, please call 972-731-0001 to schedule an appointment or complete an Online Appointment Request.

Poisonous Plants

SERIES 19 | Episode 22

There are over half a million plant species in the world and we happily co-exist with most of them but some commonly grown garden plants are poisonous. There are few documented fatalities each year, but many people become ill through exposure to toxic plants. And it helps if you can identify poisonous plants growing in the garden.

The potato creeper is a classic member of the potato or solanaceae family. To recognise plants in the family, look closely at the flower structure. They have all got five petals which are fused at the base and the male parts, the yellow anthers are often gathered together in a conical form.

Another member of the family is Solanum seaforthianum and it’s got a similar flower structure, but it produces tempting red fruit. Remember they are poisonous. Many plants from the solanaceae family have poisonous fruit. Another to look out for is the orange fruit of the winter cherry Solanum capsicastrum.

Two of the commonest members of the potato family – are of course the potato and the tomato. The leafy parts of both plants are highly poisonous. In fact, green tomatoes can cause vomiting unless they’re cooked. The heat neutralises the poisons. But with potato tubers, as soon as they go green, they’re highly dangerous and are best planted in the garden.

The Madagascan periwinkle Catharanthus roseus is a fascinating plant. It’s endangered in the wild yet it’s widely grown in our gardens because it’s so drought tolerant and flowers prolifically. But it’s full of poisons. Many poisonous plants use their toxins as a defence against grazing animals and if you look carefully at the Madagascan periwinkle you’ll notice that the flowers are propeller shaped. And this is a hint. It’s a member of the apocynaceae family. It’s a relative of frangipani and star jasmine all of which are toxic plants and all have poisonous sap. The periwinkle has several poisons in it and two of them, vincristine and vinblastine are important in medicine. They’re used as cures for tumours and for leukaemia.

Another plant family toxic to humans is the euphorbiaceae. Common favourite plants grown in our gardens include the crown of thorns, snow in summer, the candelabra tree and the poinsettia. All plants in this family have toxic sap. It’s milky and runny. Just have a look at the flowers. The true flowers are inside and are yellow and lack petals. The red parts on the outside are floral bracts, common in all members of the family.

When it comes to maintenance, all plants with dripping, milky sap have to be treated with caution and the poinsettia is a great example. Just one cut and it starts dripping with sap, which can burn, rather like oven cleaner. Wear a hat, gloves, long sleeve shirt, and long trousers when pruning these plants. Ensure the pruning cuts are made below waist height so the sap drips to the ground. Be careful in hot weather. If you start to sweat, never use your gloves to wipe your brow. If you get sap in your eyes, you’re off to hospital.

The good news is all the waste from poisonous plants can be composted. The toxins are fully biodegradable, but don’t burn them.

Bushman’s poison Acokanthera oblongifolia is an old fashioned, sweetly perfumed plant from South Africa. Originally sap was used on the tips of arrows and spears. It’s lethal. If you burn the plant, the fumes will intoxicate before they kill. To recognise it look at the leaves. They are remarkably similar to the bay leaf. But then, they produce fruit which are very much like olives. The simple test is to cut the plant and see the white milky sap which separates it from both olives and bay trees.

Anything that’s toxic to humans is likely to be toxic to pets and when it comes to children, it’s important to remember, they’re not just small adults. Toddlers don’t have fully developed immune systems. Always assume that kids and pets will explore and experiment with garden plants and if you need further information, contact the poison information centre in your state.

Further information

Poisons Information Centre

NSW Poisons Information Centre

Animal Emergency Centre

5 Things to Make with Hollyhocks

Learn 5 ways to use hollyhocks – a lovely old-fashioned garden flower that’s completely edible and non-toxic!

Many people don’t realize that the common garden flower, Hollyhock, is completely edible – root, leaves and blossoms – and useful for more than just its charming looks.

Hollyhock is a direct relation to Marshmallow and can sometimes be used as a milder substitute for that herb; the primary exception being that Hollyhocks have woodier and tougher roots, and are less palatable for eating purposes than Marshmallow’s softer roots.

One thing to remember about this plant is that high heat and alcohol can denature some of the healing properties, so, for the most part, avoid those two methods of preparing or preserving Hollyhock when using for medicinal purposes.

Some uses for Hollyhocks include:

1. Hollyhock Cold Infusion

Taken internally, Hollyhock is soothing to the gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary tracts in the human body. When you have a sore throat and it’s hard to swallow, try a cold infusion of Hollyhock. (For a persistent sore throat that isn’t helped by common home remedies, be sure to check with your health care provider.)

To make, simply gather a handful of fresh flowers (you can use dried also) and fill the center of a square of cheesecloth. Wrap the sides up to form a crude tea bag of sorts and tie with baking string, or in a pinch, I’ve used unwaxed dental floss. Drape the string over the edge and use the lid to hold it in place. You want to keep it submerged near the top of the water. Leave in place in the refrigerator overnight, then remove the makeshift bag. Refrigerate the resulting infusion and use within one to two days.

You can also use this cold infusion to replace the water amount in soothing soap recipes. (See below.)

2. Hollyhock Split-End Cream

While a trim is the only sure fire way to get rid of split ends, this hair cream can help out between hair cut appointments.

This recipe is straight from the pages of my print book, 101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home. Look for it at your favorite book seller or Amazon.

To make this, you’ll need:

  • 2 tbsp (28 g) argan oil
  • 1 tbsp (1 g) crushed dried hollyhock flowers or leaves
  • 1 tbsp (14 g) shea butter
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) aloe vera gel
  • 2 to 3 drops of your favorite essential oil
  • preservative of choice (see note below)

Infuse the argan oil with hollyhocks. (If you’ve never infused oil before, use the same method as for making plantain infused oil as written in my article about 10 Things to Make with Plantain.)

In a small jar, melt the shea butter by placing the jar into a small saucepan of hot water. Once melted, combine it with the hollyhock infused oil.

Place the oil and butter mixture in the refrigerator for around 30 minutes, or until it starts to firm up. Using a fork, stir well.

Add the aloe vera gel, preservative, and essential oil, if using. Stir the mixture vigorously for a couple of minutes, until it turns opaque and creamy.

Set the mixture aside to cool for about 5 minutes, then stir thoroughly once more with a fork. You should now have a thickened cream.

To use, dab a very small amount on your fingertips. Working with one section at a time, lightly rub the cream just into the ends of your hair. Go light on amount used – a little bit will go a long way!

Preservative note: My favorite natural preservative changes over time, so I tend to vary which one I use. Currently, I would recommend using 2 grams of Phytocide Elderberry OS (oil soluble natural preservative), but mixing it in with the melted butter and oils, right before refrigerating. (I determined that amount by deciding on a 3.5% usage rate for this batch, which is 60 grams.) If you wanted to use a water soluble preservative, such as Leucidal SF Max (natural) or Optiphen Plus (not natural, but paraben-free and formaldehyde-free), add it with the aloe. (You would use 2 grams Leucidal SF Max, or 0.6 g Optiphen Plus.)

3. An Old-Fashioned Hollyhock Doll

This is not an herbal use, but a fun thing to show the kids!

To make, find a small bud and carefully peel away the green underside. You will reveal a tiny “face” with eyes; this will be the head of your doll.

Take a fully opened flower, turn upside down and secure the head to it with a toothpick. Now your doll has a beautiful dress with a full ruffled skirt!

Add additional toothpick halves for the arms.

This simple dolly is completely non-toxic so can even be used to decorate food and drink, as long as you are sure the child is old enough to be careful with the toothpicks.

4. Hollyhock Soap

You probably knew this one was coming! 🙂

I tend to turn every beneficial thing growing around here into a soap, Hollyhock being no exception!

For a recipe on my site, I used a cold infusion of Hollyhock for the water part of my recipe and added a tiny pinch of rose clay for color – an easy way to personalize your favorite basic soap recipe. !

(Shown in the photo: I also have a Hollyhock Shampoo Bar recipe in my print book, 101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home. It’s made with hollyhock infused oil.)

5. Butterfly Host Plant

Hollyhocks are so easy to grow and so pretty to look at, why not try your hand at growing (and using!) some this year?

Mine were handed down to me by my mother, but a great place for pure, untreated, heirloom seeds is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

They’re very drought resistant and do well in poor, hard soils – which is a bonus for me, because as a general rule, the dirt around here is pretty much red clay. Not only do my Hollyhocks come back year after year, they have thrived in a section of my yard that contains such hard dirt, I have to enlist the help of my husband’s muscles just to dig in the area.

These are fun for kids to grow too; a special bonus being that Hollyhocks are a preferred host for Painted Lady Butterflies. We definitely want to help butterflies and pollinators out as much as we can these days!

I hope this post has not just opened your eyes to some lesser known uses of Hollyhock, but also will encourage you to look around and find the hidden treasures in everything growing around you. A little research and a bit of experimentation and you never know what amazing thing you will find out next!

If you enjoyed reading about the different uses for Hollyhocks, let’s keep in touch!

Subscribe to my newsletter and receive my best natural soapmaking tutorials, DIY body care recipes, plus flower & herb projects sent straight to your inbox 2 to 3 times per month.

Eighty years later, my father still remembers hollyhocks in his grandmother’s garden, now long gone. Tall, fuzzy stalks with bright blossoms and large, palm-shaped leaves towered ten feet tall, or at least they seemed that high. The ruffled flowers had wide, cherry-red petals and sunny yellow pistils that beckoned every bumblebee and butterfly that passed.

Even those who grew up without a grandmother’s garden might remember Peter Rabbit’s hollyhock patches or “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” nursery-rhyme illustrations. Nodding wands of hollyhocks have lined paths, guarded secret gardens, screened neighbors’ views and adorned sides of barns for a long time.

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) are members of the Malvaceae, or mallow, family. While other members of the mallow family, like marsh mallow, are grown specifically for their culinary or medicinal qualities, garden hollyhocks are usually grown simply for their cottage-garden charm.

Like their medicinal cousins, all parts of garden hollyhocks are edible. The petals make a mild addition to a salad or a colorful garnish.

Keep dogs away from hollyhocks, however. I have read several reports of dogs occasionally digging up and eating hollyhock roots with resulting trips to the vet. These are anecdotal tales, but worth paying attention to.

Hollyhocks are easy to grow, although many varieties are biennial and take two years from seed to flower. Some bloom the first year if planted early enough, and other varieties are considered to be short-lived perennials. Cut them to the ground after they flower, continue to water and feed them, and they will often bloom once or twice more that season. Cut again at the end of the season and they should come back for several more years.

Hollyhocks often self-sow, producing a legion of volunteers the following year. Whichever type of hollyhock you choose, August and September are good months to plant from seed or to transplant seedlings.

Hollyhocks are not fussy and survive in many spots but do best in soil that has been amended with compost. They do not like dry soil. With adequate moisture and good drainage, hollyhocks can thrive in full sun or partial shade. Try them in a few different spots in your yard and see where they are happiest.

Hollyhocks typically grow five to six feet tall, although shorter varieties like the Celebrity, Queeny or Majorette series reach only about three feet tall. Consequently, these latter types can be grown in small beds or even containers. Some towering varieties can reach ten feet and are hummingbird heliports in colors ranging from lemon yellow, apricot and blush pink to almost black. They can reach halfway up a barn wall.

For fall planting, prepare a bed, mixing in plenty of compost and leaf mold. These amendments provide nutrition for what will become a large plant and also help your soil retain moisture.

If you buy hollyhocks at the nursery, transplant carefully, trying not to disturb the roots. Starting from seed gives you more choice. Swallowtail Garden Seeds has a good selection on its website.

Start hollyhock seeds in two-inch cell packs or pots, indoors or outdoors. Transplant when seedlings are a few inches high. Alternatively, sow seeds directly where you want them to grow, in the nice, cushy beds you prepared. If direct planting, sow groups of three or four seeds, two to three feet apart, depending on how large a variety you are planting. Press seeds into the soil and cover lightly with soil, if at all.

When seedlings are up and established, thin each group to one plant so it has room to grow. Good air circulation discourages rust and mildew, which can infect hollyhocks in moist, crowded settings. If your plants develop these ailments, carefully clip away the damaged leaves and throw them away. Always water hollyhocks from below; keeping their leaves dry can help keep rust and mildew at bay.

Hollyhocks flower on the top one and one-half to two feet of their stalk, with blossoms opening from the bottom to the top. To collect seed, wait until the petals have fallen and the flat, blackish seeds have formed. Hollyhocks are open pollinated and will usually come true from seed, although wonderful variations can always surprise you the following year.

Tree Walk: Join U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County for a free guided tree walk through Fuller Park in Napa on Monday, September 12, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Registration is recommended as space is limited. Meet at Fuller Park, corner of Jefferson and Oak Streets. Online registration or call 707-253-4221. Trees to Know in Napa Valley will be available for $15. Cash or check payable to UC Regents. Sorry, we are unable to process credit cards.

Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a workshop on “Growing Bulbs” on Saturday, September 17, from 10 a.m. to noon, at Mid-City Nursery, 3635 Broadway Street, American Canyon.Bulbs are among the easiest plants to grow and deliver a welcome dose of color and scent, often when the winter is dreary. Master Gardeners will showcase a variety of bulbs, rhizomes, corms, tubers and stolons. Learn how to plant for successive bloom; how to care for, store and divide bulbs; and how to force blooms and encourage rebloom. On-line registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (cash or check only).

Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *