Genus: Hibiscus sabdariffa
• Hardy to Zone 10
Roselle has been around for centuries, although many gardeners are unfamiliar with the plant. Also known as sour-sour and Jamaica sorrel, it is easily grown from seed. This fast-growing hibiscus will begin blooming by midsummer. But it’s not the small, light yellow or pink blossoms that make this plant useful. It’s the swollen red calyx — the husk or fleshy covering of the seed that is used fresh as well as dried and brewed into beautiful crystal-red teas. The calyx is also used in juices, jellies, jams, ice cream and flavorings.
Gather the calyxes a few days after the flower has wilted and let them dry, or use them while still fresh. Make a strong tea, sweeten with honey or sugar, then serve as an iced summer tea, or a delicious hot tea in winter. I like to freeze the liquid into a stunning, delightfully flavored pink sorbet. This annual plant will grow well in full sun in any normal garden soil and, like most hibiscus, likes ample water.
The young leaves, which have a mild rhubarb-like flavor, are eaten as a vegetable, steamed or stir-fried. They also add a pleasing flavor to mesclun salad blends. The seeds are eaten toasted as well and the stem bark yields a fine, silky, jute-like fiber that is used in many Asian countries for weaving, rope and twine.
• Seeds available from No Thyme Productions, 8321 SE 61st St., Mercer Island, WA 98040; (206) 236-8885;