Hibiscus sabdariffa or Roselle, is part of the mallow family (Malvaceae) along with hundreds of genera and thousands of species. Some of its distant cousins include okra, cacao, kola nut, cotton, and marshmallow. Often treated as an annual and propagated by seed, Hibiscus sabdariffa is actually a perennial and believed to be native to West Africa. Today roselle can be found growing in hot and tropical regions worldwide. This illustrious beauty typically shows a yellow or white flower with a deep red center and a round red calyx at the base.
The calyx of the roselle plant matures into a plump red seed pod that once deseeded is an edible fruit and is used in a variety of recipes. Most often, the dried calyces are made into hot and cold teas or infusions - Sorrel (Jamaica), Sobolo (Ghana), Agua de Jamaica (Mexico), and Karkadé (Egypt), just to name a few… Oh, and Bissap - So celebrated in fact, that Senegal made it the National Beverage. But the roselle goes beyond sweetened drinks and sodas and is also used to make an assortment of more spirited libations like wine, infused liquors, and in Trinidad and Tobago it’s used to make a sorrel-beer Shandy…. Yum! A wide range of roselle edibles are also enjoyed around the world, like jams, jellies, chutneys and preserves. Roselle can be pickled, candied and decocted into a sweetened syrup. It is often used as a natural food coloring and a tasty garnish. Even the leaves of the roselle plant are used - salads, soups and other hot dishes incorporate the leaves for a sharp, peppery zest with a spinach-like quality.
A beautiful and remarkably useful plant, Hibiscus sabdariffa has a range of industrial and medicinal applications as well. In the Philippines, fiber from the plant is used in the production of a burlap-like bagging material and a strong twine. And age-old folk remedies made with hibiscus have been used to treat many different types of ailments. A common treatment for constipation, liver disease, and cold symptoms in Africa, for high blood pressure in Iran, and Egyptians use it to cool down reduce body their temperature in the hot arid climate.
Folk medicine aside, hibiscus is a great source of fiber and is high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Calcium, Magnesium and Iron. A study published in December 2009, showed that regular hibiscus tea consumption lowered blood pressure in those who were mildly hypertensive. Battle the free radical! - another study from 2012 concluded that consumption could reduce oxidative stress… now that’s great news!
With so many potential health benefits and so many delicious recipes to try out I’m not quite sure where to start and stop with Roselle, so I thought… why not do a whole series?!
Look for my next post in The Roselle Series where I’ll cover a couple of How-To Basics: