September 12, 2014

What if I told you this beautiful plant in our garden could lower your blood pressure, make a tasty hot tea, be the base of a great curry, add zing to fresh salads, and stir up a pretty stellar cocktail? Skeptical? Sure. But take just one of those benefits from the many uses of Roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa, and it still outperforms many of the beauties in our edible garden. Gardening itself is a great way to lower blood pressure, but growing your own hisbiscus tea brings it to a new level.

The bloom and plant resemble red okra, with papery blooms whorling about the stem, lasting merely one day. The flower is twin to a small, rosy-pink hibiscus bloom, soon curling in onto itself to form a neon green seed pod within a maroon calyx. This calyx is the magic behind the tart tea many know as Red Zinger, with all that pink pizazz and citrusy bite. Roselle plants are a perennial tropical, producing hundreds of red calyx “fruits” in its’ five-foot shrub form. Once attempted as a commercial crop in Florida, roselle can be grown as an annual as far north as New Jersey. My plants are currently covered in these ruby jewels, begging experiments with sorbet, syrup, and jelly. The young, tender leaves are wonderful additions to fresh salads, lending a bite similar to sorrel. The foliage is also useful cooked, though I’ve yet to try a curry dish with the “gongura” leaves, as they are known in Indian cuisine.

After I’ve collected a few more pounds of calyces, I plan to attempt a tart chutney to replace the cranberry sauce at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, from whom we sourced the seed, shares a chutney recipe for southerners who might enjoy this “Florida cranberry.” Until then, I think I’ll chill out with the heart-healthy iced tea and bid this steamy summer adieu.

What have you made with roselle? Tell us!

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