Rose of Sharon – Bring Me a Medicinal Shrubbery!

IMAG0493Matt and I purchased and moved into our first home back in February. At that time we had many small shrubs and trees that were bare and very difficult to identify. By Spring the lilacs, tulip trees, dogwoods, and the various (very old) roses were in full bloom or leaf.

Except for a very large shrub in the North East corner of our backyard/garden area. She took forever to leaf out and I was convinced may not even come back to life this Spring. Our wonderful neighbors to the North however had the scoop on everything that had to do with the previous owners including plant identification. Apparently the unknown shrubbery is a Rose of Sharon and yes she does bloom. By June however I was very disappointed with the lack of any blooming and thought that perhaps the neighbors were a bit off.

IMAG0499It wasn’t until early July that a bit of purple caught my eye in the sea of green. I thought perhaps I was seeing things when I investigated further – lo and behold a beautiful lavender/purple flower was unfurling. The first of the season! Now it is early August and the blooms keep coming. Hummingbirds, ants, bumblebees, honeybees all enjoy the luscious pollen and nectar. Anyone who comes to the house and notices the large shrub are astounded by the size of her! She is as old as the house which was built around 1952 and has at least five different branching limbs all of which shade that part of the garden and block our watering. Sigh.
Matt has been slightly terrified that I will do some research to see if the Rose of Sharon has any medicinal properties (because then I would be less ok with us trimming or taking her out). Guess what? She does!

Rose of Sharon or Hibiscus spp. (the species could be syriacus) of the Malvaceae family aka the mallows are deciduous shrubs native to Asia. The shrub is highly prized for the beautiful flowers that open during mid-summer which can be a wonderful addition to a home landscape when all other flowers are done by June. What most people are unaware of (including myself up until just recently) is that the entire shrub is edible and medicinal.

Eat the flowers raw or added to salads for a splash of color. The taste is very mild, not sweet or bitter – come to think of it very ‘mallow’ like if you have eaten any mallows. The young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked however I can’t say from experience about the flavor since it is too late in the season to eat them that way. Apparently the root is also edible but I don’t see any reason to dig it up just to eat.

Now medicinally I find this exciting. I never would have thought it would be in the Malvaceae family that is until I took a petal and squeezed it between my fingers. It was slimy! And boy do I get excited about slime or to be more technical – mucilage. Mucilage is our mucous membranes best friend whether internally or externally. Or other exciting terms are demulcent, soothing on the inside, or emollient, soothing to the outside.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the various medicinal uses of plants that are new to me. I see the list of actions such as the ones for Rose of Sharon: antipyretic, diuretic, stomachic, styptic etc. and understand what the words mean but don’t necessarily understand how to use them medicinally. So instead I break it down to my level of how I would use this plant and what she offers. So let’s just stick with the slime.

Mucilagenous substances soothes, heals, protects, any mucous membrane in your body. Mucopolysaccharides or mucous with many sugars, when ingested coats the inside of your body. When they reach your large intestine they are partially broken down by the bowel flora and long story short becomes a ‘pre-biotic’ because it feeds the good flora in your gut. Thus giving you good intestinal health and soothing. Now think of inflamed situations in the GI tract that Rose of Sharon could soothe: heartburn, ulcers, IBS, colitis etc.

One herb I always like to use if I have a urinary tract infection is marshmallow because the mucilage will also coat my urinary tract, reduce swelling, cool the fire, and heal the membranes. The Rose of Sharon can be a wonderful substitute since I don’t have marshmallow growing in my garden.

As an emollient the mucilage will help bring down inflammation from ailments such as rashes, burns, bites, and stings. If using a dried powdered form of demulcent and you add just a little bit of water it will actually act like an astringent in that it will dry, draw, and shrink tissue. I am excited to try it on poison oak dermatitis.

The leaves, flowers, bark and root bark can all be utilized as medicine. I would use the leaves and flowers as a demulcent. One article I read suggested drying the flowers and powdering them to keep on had for adding to tooth powders, facial exfoliants, or even added in to body butters. Here is the link to the neat blog about that.

Make the leaves and flowers into tea for internal soothing or even make an herbal oil with the flowers. It is possible to use the bark for demulcent qualities as well. The root bark may be used as a febrifuge and even a vermifuge. As far as I can tell Rose of Sharon is a very safe plant without many or any contraindications. As always be careful if you are pregnant or are on a cocktail of drugs.

I end my report with this: sorry honey the Rose of Sharon ain’t going anywhere!