Rosellas, otherwise known as wild hibiscus, are a popular food due to their unique, though tart flavour. It is quite popular here; we have been growing them for a few years ourselves. Learn how to grow, harvest and use rosella today.
There are many varieties of hibiscus flowers, though not all are edible. The one that we are looking at today, is the Hibiscus sabdariffa or Rosella (sometimes roselle), which is an edible type. It is an attractive annual shrub with large reddish leaves and lovely yellowish flowers which grow into delicious crimson coloured fruit. They are easy to grow as they have few pests, and are quite productive. They can survive in many soil types, though they do like to have good drainage. These plants love plenty of water which is used to help maintain their flowering and fruit development and I usually mulch them as well. These plants can grow quite tall and wide, so will need plenty of room. They will also need some kind of support as the branches are subject to snapping in heavy winds, especially when loaded with calyxes, as I have found out these last few weeks.
They are easy to grow from seeds and should be planted in early spring in tropical areas in warm soil. Soaking the seeds in water for 24 hours before planting can help, though I haven’t needed to do this but, I do live in a hot climate. You could start the seeds inside, covering them with around 12 mm of soil. They should be planted around 50cm apart, then thinned before planting in the ground. The seeds do need heat to sprout, so a heat mat may be handy in cooler weather. Keep the containers warm and the soil moist.
To get a decent crop, only about 4 plants are needed and they will crop until the first frost. The flower will bloom, them shrivel up and fall out of the flower. After this the calyx will form. Rosellas are usually ready to pick about 1-2 weeks after they flower. At this stage they will be around 2 – 3 cm across. These calyxes can be cut off with secateurs.
If you are planning to keep seeds for planting, the calyxes should be left on the plant until they dry up so that the seeds are given time to mature. Remove them from the plant and dry on a mat inside before storing them. They should be dry, brittle and easy to crack open with no moisture in sight or they may mould when in storage.
The rosella in the picture below is what they look like when I harvest them.
With the Hibiscus sabdariffa, one of the edible hibiscus plants, many parts of the plant are edible.
Rosellas contain a seed, with the ‘petals’ of the fruit known as the fleshy calyx. This seed contains pectin which is great for using in jams. The seedpods can also be roasted, then ground into flour, though I haven’t tried this as yet. The calyxes are used in Hibiscus tea, sauces, jams, cordials, syrup and many more dishes. This is also the part that is dried and used in teas and can also be used in medicines. As they is high in Vitamin C, it may be used for supporting respiratory health, maintaining body temperature, as a mild laxative, help with high blood pressure, weight loss, reducing cholesterol level and maintaining blood sugar levels.
The young green leaves can be used in punch, and dried to use in tea.
This hibiscus contains plant chemicals known as polyphenols which not only help protect the plant from UV rays, provide colour for attracting pollinators among other things, it also contains anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-microbial properties as well as helping with reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. These polyphenols are similar to the ones found in blueberries, cherries, cranberries and blackberries.
If you are taking medications, please seek medical advice as rosella can aggravate conditions such as heartburn, and reduce the absorption of chloroquine.
Separating the Calyx from the Seed Pod
When using rosellas in recipes like the jam, or if you want to dehydrate the calyx to use in teas, you will need to separate the calyx from the seed pod. To do this, you could pull the calyx part off, leaving the seed, though this will break the calyx into pieces which doesn’t really matter for jams and dehydrating.
Though if you want to keep the calyx intact to use as decorations or candied rosellas, the best way to take the seed pod out is by cutting across the base of the flower, severing the calyx from the stem. Then cut a slit down the length of the calyx and then pop out the seed with your finger.
Calyxes start to lose moisture and texture when they are left to sit and can mould, especially if there is a lot of moisture in the air. It is best to use the rosellas within 24-48 hours after picking as this is when they will be at their freshest.
Some great recipes for using rosellas are:
- Rosella Syrup – which can be used to flavour ice cream or to make cordial
- Rosella Jam – which can be used on toast, sandwiches, pancakes, waffles and the like
- Rosella Cheesecake – that uses rosella jam in the cheesecake filling, and rosella syrup to make the jelly topping.
To make a simple, yet delicious ice tea, grab a handful of fresh or dried rosella calyxes. Place them in 1 litre of boiling water and allow to steep for around 30 minutes. For a stronger flavour, let them steep them in longer. Strain into a 2L or larger jug. Add around 1 litre of fresh, cool water and a sweetener to taste. Serve over ice cubes.
If you aren’t growing your own plants, but are looking to purchase some dried hibiscus flowers, try these.