Each year is an adventure in the garden and a chance to try something new. [Don’t try too many things all at once or you will get overwhelmed.] In 2012 I grew Red Thai Roselle, a type of hibiscus, for the first time as a result of seeing it at Acorn Community, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. My friends who live there were excited about it and their enthusiasm was contagious. I learned that it would make a red colored fruity tea and I wanted to give it a try. Hibiscus tea could lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system and supply you with antioxidants. Since it has an effect on your blood pressure, if you are taking medication for that, you might want to check with your doctor before making it a part of your life. The leaves can go into your salads, but I was after tea ingredients—whatever it was that would give me a red, zingy tea. It is the main ingredient of Red Zinger tea, by the way.
Those of you who live in Florida would know Roselle as Florida Cranberry and may have other varieties besides Red Thai that you grow. Red Thai is an earlier maturing variety that gives us growers who live north of the Sunbelt an opportunity to have a harvest in our gardens. Although it is a perennial in tropical climates, it is an annual elsewhere. The flowers resemble the flowers of cotton and okra. That was interesting to me because I grow both of those crops in my garden, also.
I had been warned that the plants get quite big and planted them at about three feet apart. Ira Wallace at Southern Exposure has since advised me that an even wider spacing, maybe five feet, would most likely result in a much larger harvest per plant. Being tropical these plants need a hot sunny spot. Growing them was the easy part. Once they began to flower I realized I didn’t know what part to harvest. It’s the calyx that is needed—the part at the base of the flower. After the flower falls off the calyx will grow into a red pod that surrounds a seed ball. It is that pod, not the immature seed ball,that is needed. I harvested regularly and dried the calyx pieces in my solar dryers. Learn more about that in pictures and words at http://homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/red-thai-roselle/ .
I use Red Thai in hot tea, either alone or with other herbs, but it can also be used as iced tea. I’m sure with an internet search you will find drink recipes for it, but you may have to be searching for Florida cranberry. I haven’t tried it yet, but you can also make “cranberry” sauce with Roselle. Southern Exposure published a recipe for that in their November 2011 newsletter. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a source for seeds.
This plant has many uses. I found a reference about making a jute-like fiber from hibiscus so I looked it up in my copy of A Weaver’s Garden by Rita Buchanan. Sure enough, there is a listing for Roselle. Most likely the best varieties for fiber are not the best varieties for tea. Other than cotton, I haven’t explored fiber plants too much, but one of these days I just might take a closer look at that. This was really fun and Red Thai Roselle will be in my garden again this year. As long as you have a sunny spot that is large enough, I hope you give it a go.
Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at www.HomeplaceEarth.wordpress.com.