ROSELLE (Hibiscus sabdariffa, Thai Red), also known as Red Sorrel and Florida Cranberry, is an annual heirloom that produces bright red calyxes used for culinary and medical purposes. The beautiful plants can grow as large as 6' and if you put 3 together you have an outstanding decorative bush. The flowers look more like those on okra plants -- to which it is related -- than traditional tropical hibiscus. Still a very pretty decorative and then there is the extra bonus of the "fruit." Requires a long growing period so start indoors very early providing sufficient warmth and light and harden off slowly before transferring to its sunniest garden location when weather warms. Not everyone who grows will be able to harvest the ripe fruit/calyxes, but the plant is so beautiful and large and decorative, without any need for deadheading, it is worth growing. Annual. 5 Seeds. Hardy Zones 8-11.
CULINARY: Popular in Latin America, where it is a traditional Christmas beverage, an infusion made from the calyxes of the flower stains the beverage an intense and enticing red. A cooling and refreshing summer drink it is naturally fruity and tart, so you will want to sweeten it. To make, just remove the calyxes from freshly harvested buds and use immediately for best quality. (You can dry like tea -- this is one of the components of Red Zinger Tea -- but won't be quite as delicious as fresh.) You can chop and use in fruit salads, sautee in butter and serve garnished with chopped nuts, make chutneys or marmalades (it has its own pectin), or make this delicious "saril" by boiling with sugar (or other sweetener), draining and chilling. You can spice it up with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. In Senegal, the green leaves are used as a spicy green, cooked with fish and rice. In Myanmar, they are a principal component of their curry.
MEDICINAL: Interesting properties. Roselle tea is taken to relieve coughs, to treat hypertension, urinary tract infections, and it is believed to reduce cholesterol. Recent studies show that Roselle may have important cancer-prevention (particularly colon cancer) components.
GROWING TIPS: This plant takes about 6 months to mature, so if you are not in the warmer zones, you will want to give it a good head start indoors using a heat mat and grow light, potting up successively and gradually acclimating it ("hardening off") before putting outdoors for the bulk of the spring/summer months. Do not, however, attempt to start in the ground and transfer to a pot - the taproot will break and you will lose the plant. Best in full sun and sandy soil.