October Hibiscus

by Daisy on 10/30/2011

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In August, I mentioned that I was waiting impatiently for the roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) I planted in the garden this Spring to bloom.

It turns out there was a good reason my roselle was taking a long time to bloom.

Roselle takes a long time to bloom.

I just needed to set my jets to simmer and wait until October.

This plant has more nicknames than Sean Combs.  Florida cranberry, Jamaican, Indian or Red sorrel, Jamaican tea , rosa de Jamaica, sour tea, AND October Hibiscus, among many others.

I don’t know where to start to describe this plant.

It’s a species of hibiscus with edible leaves and flowers.  The flavor of the leaves is much like sorrel, with a slightly (not unpleasant) mucilaginous mouthfeel.  The late-blooming flowers are hibiscus-like in form ( naturally), off-white in color with a red “eye.”  After the flower blooms and fades, the fleshy red calyx continues to swell and form a large seed within, reminiscent of a garbanzo bean in appearance.  The calyx also has the tangy flavor of the leaves, plus an intense red color which it imparts to teas, syrups, jams, jellies, and pies. The stalks contain a bast fiber similar to jute.

In my garden, it has grown over six feet tall, and nearly as wide.  The leaves are green with red veins and stems.  A bit gangly and with a tendency to lean, it would probably have benefited from some pinching back when it was smaller to encourage a stouter shape.

The calyxes can be boiled in water to form a tea concentrate, or with water and sugar to make a syrup concentrate.  They can also be dried and stored to be used for tea.  Roselle is very popular in the tropics, and beverages made from it are considered “national drinks” in some parts, known by names like Bissap in Senegal, Flor de Jamaica carbonated soda (Jarritos brand) in Mexico, and many others.  You might know it as the “hibiscus” in many herbal teas, such as Red Zinger.

It’s also a medicinal plant.  Antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-hypertensive, and it’s been used in folk medicine as a laxative and diuretic.  The leaves are used as a poultice for cracked skin, ulcers, and boils.

Right now, I’m enjoying the plant and its October blooms.  In about a week after each bloom, the calyxes will be large enough to begin the harvest, and I hope to be back with some recipes to share.

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