Ask Master Gardener Volunteer Linda Clemens
Roselle (Florida Cranberry) (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
A new plant in our demonstration vegetable garden this year is roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), also known as Florida Cranberry. This is an heirloom plant, grown by pioneer Florida families and used to make a fruity tea, jelly, and a tart sauce that tastes like cranberries. One of the more modern uses of roselle is in “Red Zinger” or hibiscus tea. To me, roselle tastes like a cross between raspberries and rhubarb.
Roselle is a member of the hibiscus family and is related to okra and cotton. It is a warm-weather plant, and takes about 100 days of warm weather before it starts to flower. The plant is an annual and can be grown from seed– in our area start the seeds indoors in early January to give the plants a head start. The plants grow rapidly and can be over 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide by the end of the summer. The plant is quite decorative, with lush, dark green foliage. The flowers look like small, plain, creamy yellow hibiscus blossoms. Fruit starts forming around mid-September and the plants will bear heavily until frost. Freezing weather will kill the plant.
How Do I Use Roselle?
The part of the plant that is most commonly used in the bright red, thick calyx that forms around the base of the flower. Dozens of these will ripen at once. To harvest the roselle, cut or pull the calyxes from the stem. Soak the calyxes in water for half an hour or so to remove any insects (like ants) that may be hiding inside.
Inside the calyx is a round green seed pod that is usually discarded or saved to grow more roselle plants next year. Pull the petals of the calyx from the seed pod, and you are ready to use the roselle calyx petals for your recipe. Check the internet for recipes for jelly, jam, syrup, or “Florida Cranberry” sauce. Florida author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling), includes a recipe for roselle jelly in her “Cross Creek Cookery”.
To make a half gallon pitcher of ice tea, put about two cups of calyx pieces in a pot, add about 4 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Take off the heat, and let sit for 15 minutes. Strain out the calyxes and add sugar or honey as desired. Dilute to taste and chill. Some experimentation will show you how much roselle, water and sweetener yields your ideal tea. Spices, like fresh ginger root or cinnamon sticks, can be steeped with the roselle. Roselle also makes a good hot tea.
Where Can I find Roselle for My Own Garden?
You can get roselle seeds online from heirloom seed companies and can find the started plants at some local nurseries. To see Roselle in person, come to the extension office demonstration garden before the first freeze and pick a sample to try. You can also take a couple of cuttings and try to root them for next year.
For more information about roselle, see http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/roselle.html
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