Thanksgiving week is upon on us. It’s a time for giving thanks, spending time with family and enjoying good food. For the farm to table foodies out there, eating local is all the rage. One of the ingredients hard to find locally though, is the star of the show in one of the most iconic edibles for the holiday – the cranberry. Cranberry sauce is a staple for the Thanksgiving spread but one would be hard pressed to find cranberries growing in Florida. Unless you are talking about Florida cranberries, also known as roselle or sorrel and dubbed scientifically as Hibiscus sabdariffa. This thanksgiving, you might could try substituting traditional cranberries with roselle to spice it up and keep things local.
Cranberries grow in cold climates in places like Wisconsin and Massachusetts, where much of the U.S. production comes from. Hibiscus sabdariffa on the other hand thrives in tropical and sub-tropical climates, i.e. Florida. It is native to areas in Africa and common in the Caribbean and other hot and humid regions of the world. Still to be discovered by many in the United States, it is gaining traction in Florida as a useful culinary ingredient and alternative crop for growers. So, what is it?
Roselle is an annual shrub that grows to about 6-8 feet. Related to okra, cotton, and the ornamental hibiscus any Florida gardener is familiar with, roselle is typically planted in late spring or early summer and harvested in the fall. It thrives in Florida with little inputs. It is an unusual looking plant with red veining in the leaves and streaks of red on the stems. But perhaps the most unusual part about it is the harvestable portion – the calyx. When a flower forms, structures called sepals grow under the main flower structure and help support and protect the flower. They look similar to leaves and collectively they are called the calyx. Still part of the flower structure, the calyx is usually just an overlooked part of the plant that doesn’t get consumed or used. In some plants however, the calyx can become fleshy and a prominent part of the flower structure, as is the case for roselle. The bright red sorrel calyx is tart and crisp and is used in teas and other beverages, salads, garnishes, and more.
The leaves of the plant are also edible and can be used in salads and as cooked greens, much like spinach. The young, tender leaves are the best to choose. Roselle is a very versatile and easy to grow crop that interested growers are encouraged to check out. Growers should be aware that they develop quite large trunks and root systems so pulling them out of the garden at the end of the season can be strenuous.
Those looking for more information can check out the resources below: