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UF/IFAS investigates sorrel as a new crop for Florida

Sorrel is a leafy green plant with reddish-pink flowers. It’s hardy, fast growing, has a variety of uses and UF/IFAS is investigating its potential as a new crop for Florida. A recent field day revealed preliminary findings and input from farmers growing the crop.

UF/IFAS Extension agents, in collaboration with the University of the Virgin Islands and central Florida farmers, are growing two research plots of the crop to understand its potential for commercial growth in Florida. The work is funded by a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant.

Sorrel, a relative of okra, cotton and hibiscus, is commonly grown in the Caribbean islands and a common ingredient in Caribbean food and drinks. It’s also known as roselle, Florida cranberry, or Jamaican sorrel but is native to Africa.

Speakers at the field day included experts from the University of the Virgin Islands, UF/IFAS Extension and the host of the event, Aubrey Cash, owner of Dirty Dog Organics farm.

“In the Virgin Islands, we’re lucky if the crop gets to be three to four feet tall,” said Thomas Zimmerman, assistant director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of the Virgin Islands. “When I visited the research sites in Florida in September, the crop was already taller than me.”

The plants require very little inputs and maintenance and are extremely hardy. Pest pressure is low. Excess moisture can cause some disease issues, but overall, the crop has flourished. Planted in the summer, the crop bears multiple harvests from September to first frost.

“This is a really easy crop for Florida growers,” said Cash. “The resilience of these plants is remarkable. I plant this crop and walk away. The overhead is low, the sales are high, and this has been highly profitable for our farm.”

Sorrel calyces, or flowers, are commonly used in teas, juices, beer and wine and is known for its tart flavor. Jams, pies and other recipes are also noted as delicious ways to enjoy the plant. The leaves can be used in salad mixed green blends or sauteed, similar to spinach or arugula. The plant is nutrient dense and high in vitamin C and fiber.

“Education played a huge role in the marketability of the crop,” said Cash. “Every type of person buys this crop – old, young, and of diverse races and backgrounds. We sell out every week.”

Data analysis from the research trials begins later this year. Another crop will be planted next year, after which UF/IFAS Extension agents will provide official results on production methods, cost of production, yields, and income projections. Results will be made available to the general public in UF/IFAS publications and journal articles.

“We hope to have another field day to present those results in the future,” said Norma Samuel, UF/IFAS Extension horticulture agent. “I’ve grown sorrel in my backyard for years and have seen how well the crop has done. I’m excited to share some official research on the crop with growers.”