Striking, unusual, edible, and useful. Those four words do well to describe Hibiscus sabdariffa – L., aka Roselle. That small bit of information should be enough for anyone to consider planting this beauty in their garden, but to learn more, read on!
Roselle, can also go by the names hibiscus, Florida cranberry, flor de Jamaica, Jamaica sorrel, sour-sour, Queensland jelly plant, jelly okra, and many more. Roselle is a tropical shrub within the Malvaceae (mallow) family of plants. This relative of okra and cotton is thought to have originated in India and Southeast Asia and then spread to Africa. However, some think it may be the other way around, from Africa, and then onto India and Southeast Asia. While origin may be debated, we do know that it is now grown (and consider native) in many areas within the tropical climate zone.
Roselle is grown in some regions of the temperate zones. However, due to the fact this plant is highly susceptible to frost, if grown in temperate zones, it must be started indoors and then transplanted outside when weather is warm enough, typically early summer. The right greenhouse set up can produce hearty plants. See more on innovative greenhouse design here: https://permaculturenews.org/2016/12/23/greenhouses-and-abundance/
When planting outdoors, be sure to plant Roselle in full sun and moist, sandy loamy soils. When the plant is beginning to grow, weeding is essential. However, as the plant matures and becomes larger it will shade out competitors. It prefers slightly alkaline soils and requires little fertilization. Roselle will begin to produce flowers in late summer and seeds will ripen in early to mid-autumn, as the days become shorter.
The seeds, leaves, fruit, and roots can all be used in foods or for medicinal purposes. (Please note any use of plants, herbs, etc. for medicinal purposes should first be evaluated by your health care provider.) The calyx of the Roselle plant is the portion of the plant that is most widely used. The calyx is the whorl of the sepals, which forms a protective layer around the flower’s seedpod and is red and fleshy.
The use of the calyx has been applied to creating cranberry-like sauces and jams, holiday drinks, baking in pies, and adding in color and flavor to teas. For more information of teas from the garden click here: https://permaculturenews.org/2016/06/10/10-plus-healthful-teas-from-the-herb-garden/.
However, when harvesting these delectable beauties, be sure to pick the calyces before they turn to brown, and separate the seeds before using them in your favorite recipe. The seeds are full of protein and can be roasted and ground and used as a coffee substitute or added to salads along with the leaves of the Roselle plant.
The calyces offer their own nutritional benefits as well. A serving of 100 grams (about 2 cups) of raw fruit is about 49 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrates, and less than 1 gram of fat and protein. Roselle does provide some vitamin C and A, along with a little B1, B2, and B3. Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and iron are also are offered by this fruit.
The flavor of the calyx, with its tart and tangy flavor, resembles that of the cranberry or carissa fruit. So while the calyx may be eaten raw its best made, as mentioned above, into sauces, jams, drinks, and pies. A fun recipe for use of the calyx is creating drinks for the holiday season. Here’s a recipe you can try: (Recipe adapted from In Search of Yummy-ness: Spiced Caribbean Sorrel Drink)
Spicy Roselle Punch
5 cups calyx
16 cups water
3 cinnamon sticks (preferably Ceylon)
4 star anise pods (1/2 tsp of anise extract can be substituted)
1 cup of a sweet fruit such as strawberries or papaya
Combine all the ingredients into a large pot.
Simmer the mixture for about 45-50 minutes, or until it is fragrant and the liquid is red.
Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a glass pitcher or punch bowl.
Place in refrigerator until chilled.
Once chilled the punch can be drank as is or served over ice.
To add some flair, pour in a little sparkling water (nonalcoholic version) or some sparkling wine for the adult version and garnish with an orange wedge or strawberry slice.
If you prefer rum or vodka, those can be added instead.
This recipe is pretty versatile and open to being altered based on taste. Additional spices can be added such as nutmeg, cloves, allspice, etc. If you find the drink too tart, add a little more fruit or a dash of salt to the recipe.
Due to the fact that Roselle is edible, ornamental, versatile, and easy to grow, this plant is a highlight to have in any garden or yard. Roselle will add color and value to your botanical and cooking ventures. So the next time you are looking for that unique addition to spice up your flora or your drink making experience, think Roselle, and cheers!
Baessler, L. July 29, 2015. Gardening Know How. Roselle Plant Care – How To Grow Roselle Plants In The Garden. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/roselle/growing-roselle-plants.htm
Engels, J. June 10, 2016. Permaculture Research Institute. 10-Plus Healthful Teas from the Herb Garden. https://permaculturenews.org/2016/06/10/10-plus-healthful-teas-from-the-herb-garden/
Hunt, D. December 23, 2016. Permaculture Research Institute. Greenhouses and Abundance. https://permaculturenews.org/2016/12/23/greenhouses-and-abundance/
NutritionValue.org. 2017. NutritionValue.org. Roselle, Raw. https://www.nutritionvalue.org/Roselle,_raw_nutritional_value.html
Shareba. December 23, 2013. In Search of Yummy-ness. Discovering Good Food at Home and Abroad. Christmas, Drinks, Recipes. Spiced Caribbean Sorrel Drink. https://insearchofyummyness.com/2013/12/23/quick-sorrel-drink-recipe/
SlidePlayer.com.Inc. 2017. Climate Lesson: What factors contribute to a region’s climate? https://slideplayer.com/slide/4628722/
University of Florida. 2015. University of Florida IFAS Gardening Solutions. Roselle. https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/roselle.html
Wong, W. April – June, 2009. NParks. My Green Space Quarterly Newsletter. Gardening. Volume: 2. Issue: 2. https://mygreenspace.nparks.gov.sg/discover-the-many-uses-of-the-roselle-plant/