What Is Hibiscus Sadbariffa – Roselle, Epicurean Delight

Roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa, has long been grown in tropical lands and a few warmer parts of the United States. Still, it has never had anything like the appreciation it deserves, and its cultivation might well be increased thousands of times.

Roselle, botanically, a relative of cotton and the ornamental hibiscus, is an upright, bush-like plant, growing 3′ to 4′ feet high, with red stems and green leaves that look somewhat like small maple leaves. 

Roselle EpicureanPin

When the days become short and the weather cools in the fall, if there is no frost, these leaves may turn red like the maple, but it is only infrequently, in the case of a late fall without frost, that this phenomenon can be seen. 

Queensland Jelly Plant

The plant is also known as the Queensland jelly plant, Jamaica sorrel, and “Florida cranberry” this last evidently due to the cranberry-like flavor and color of the sauce and jelly of which it is the source.

Strangely, this plant has not had attention from the American food and flavor trade. However, it has been commercially grown in Australia to produce a “Queensland Jelly” exported to England, and it has long been a common garden crop in the West Indies.

Usual directions for using roselle state that the calyx surrounding the seed pod is used as soon as the flower drops for making jelly or in the infusion of a beverage. 

However, nearly all the plants, except the woody main stalk and thicker stems, can be used with equally good results. This fact makes the roselle plant of value for northern gardens where few flowers or fruits are produced.

Possibilities In The South

In our Southern states, from Kentucky south, particularly along the warm Gulf coast and southern California, the roselle plant might be the oasis of a big food and beverage product industry. 

Although probably not of much commercial value in the North, it could be attractive to home gardens almost anywhere in the United States or southern Canada.

That a few northern residents have some appreciation of its worth is shown by the fact that rosette seed has been included in the catalog of a Montana seedsman. 

It has been grown successfully in southern Michigan for several years, yielding a jelly of epicurean quality made from the leaves and stems with no fruits whatsoever.

Roselle leaves and stems are filled with an acid juice, and it is only necessary to boil them for 15 to 20 minutes, after which the resulting bright pink or light red infusion can be sweetened and, with the addition of commercial pectin, made into a jelly, in flavor something between cranberries and crab apples.

Infusion of The Beverage

The infusion of the beverage itself is hardly more difficult than making tea or coffee. This roselle infusion also combines well with other fruit products. 

When flavored with rosette, the flesh of muskmelons and watermelons make a good sauce, although cooked melons alone are insipid. 

A combination of these annual garden crops may fill the cans where fruit trees and berry bushes are absent or refuse to bear.

It must not be inferred that roselle is a “poor fruit substitute,” far from being good enough to stand on its own merits.

Planting Roselle Seeds

Roselle seed should be planted outdoors as soon as the soil is warm and the danger of frost is past, along the middle of May to the first of June, or better earlier, if the young plants can be protected.

Indoor starting may be advantageous, but paper or peat starting pots should be used as the plants do not stand transplanting well. 

There is one long tap root to the roselle plant, with but few short laterals. The plants should stand about 30″ inches apart each way in good soil if there is any chance of their approaching maturity. 

Roselle seems to have no insect enemies nor to be subject to plant diseases, at least in northern climates, but it is a tropical plant and is killed by light frosts that will show but a trace of damage on tomatoes and cucumbers. 

At the threat of frost, the plants may be pulled and stored indoors, where they can be held in usable condition for a few days. The dried herb retains much of the flavor.

Roselle does well in light sandy soils and withstands drought remarkably well, and the more tropic the heat, the better.

44659 by Archer P. Whallon