July 31, 2015
By Trevor Hylton
Jamaican Sorrel. Photo by Trevor Hylton.
Hibiscus sabdariffa also known as Roselle and Jamaican Sorrel is not indigenous to Jamaica. In fact, it is found all around the world. It is a species of hibiscus that includes okra hollyhock and Rose of Sharon among other species.
It is an erect, bushy herbaceous subshrub that can reach four to seven feet tall and almost as wide. At the base of each flower is a fleshy, bright red structure called a calyx; it is this part that is harvested and used to make juices, sauces, jellies, wines, pies, and other tasty edibles. The calyces are separated from the seeds for use in recipes. If left on the plant, the calyces eventually turn brown and split open to reveal the seeds. Just about every part of this plant is edible.
Roselle thrives in a wide range of soil pH and is adaptable to varying soil types; it appreciates frequent watering but will do well in dry or wet conditions. It is not shade tolerant. Most varieties are photoperiodic, meaning they are sensitive to the length of daylight and do not flower if there are more than 13 hours of light in the day. There are a few new varieties that will produce year round. In this area it is best to start seeds indoors in early spring and then set them in the ground between May and June. Calyces will be ready for harvesting in October. It is very important to harvest before it gets cold because this plant has zero tolerance for cold temperature. Calyces will be obliterated if temperature falls below 40 degrees C. The main pest problem of Roselle is nematodes therefore it is essential to practice good crop rotation.
Jamaican sorrel is used as a Festive Christmas drink in Jamaica and many other Caribbean countries. The sepals and calyx from the harvest are dried and then stored for making cordials and punches as well as jams and teas. It is also used to add a red color and flavor to herb teas. The flavor is somewhere between cranberry and raspberry with a hint of pineapple.
Jamaican Sorrel contains proteins, fats, fiber, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and calcium. Given all this, it can be said that hibiscus tea can serve as an excellent food supplement and a booster of the body’s immune system. In addition to its normal nutritive value, it provides health benefits including prevention of disease. It is associated with the prevention and or treatment of at least four life-threatening diseases – cancer, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. Sorrel has also been recognized for its diuretic properties and as an aid to weight loss.
A simple recipe for making Jamaican sorrel tea
2 ½ cups dried sorrel
3 oz. fresh ginger, grated
5 pimento berries (allspice)
10 cups boiling water
2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
¾ cup white rum (optional)
Makes 10 cups
Place sorrel, ginger and pimento berries in a large pot or mixing bowl and pour boiling water over the ingredients; stir and place in fridge overnight to steep. Using a large strainer, pour the steeped liquid into another container; use a spoon to squeeze excess liquid out of the sorrel then add sugar, lemon juice and rum to sorrel and stir until sugar has dissolved. Enjoy over ice. To prevent the liquid from fermenting, store it in the fridge or in a cool place.
Trevor Hylton is an Extension Agent with Florida A&M University and University of Florida IFAS Extension in Leon and Wakulla Counties. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov