days to maturity: 200 days
plant spacing: 9 square feet
sunlight requirements: 6-14 hours hours
look out for: iron deficiency causing yellowing leaves and stunted growth
harvest notes: prune off whole branches or individual calyx when ripe
Roselle, aka Sorrel, aka Florida Cranberry, aka Jamaica, aka Flor de Jamaica is popular among many tropical cultures as you can see by the diversity of its common names. In America its most commonly used as the source of Hibiscus Tea, the tart red tea popularized by celestial seasonings "red zinger" tea. In the Caribbean its most commonly used to make a boozy dark red holiday drink called "sorrel". In Mexico the petals of the red calyx are turned into a soda called "jamaica". Down here in South Florida Roselle is an incredibly popular home garden plant because its beautiful (as a hibiscus variety it makes a large healthy bush and beautiful hibiscus flowers all summer long), easy to grow, and produces hundreds of roselle calyx (thats the beautiful jewel toned seed pod that is used for hibiscus tea) which are very hard to find grown organically, and sold fresh. Due to its popularity here in Florida theres now a "Florida Cranberry Alliance" that is doing its best to familiarize the public with this tart and tropical alternative to the bog cranberry.
Its hard to convey just how much we love love love this unique tropical tea plant! Planted in spring or summer (aka now!) it will grow in leaps and bounds through this hot and rainy season and once the day length begins to shorten it will flower and make calyx in an incredibly beautiful show of dazzling red, burgundy and fuscia tones. A healthy plant can be 6 feet tall and just as wide, meaning one plant can produce hundreds and hundreds of calyx. Here at the farm we grow long rows of Roselle in our perennial planting area and harvest entire 3 foot long branches for sale at the market as both cut flower and fresh tea! admire the roselle branch on the stem in a vase for a few days and once it starts to naturally dry out, peel the dark red petals off of the calyx and allow them to continue drying in a dehydrator or throw them in hot water for tea. Another very cool use of roselle abundance is preserving them whole for use in cocktails. We couldn't help but laugh when we saw the price of these beautiful "wild hibiscus flowers preserved in syrup" ... a unique product to be sure but we were shocked by the $1.00 per preserved calyx price tag.
Every summer we do our best selling and planting as many roselle plants as possible in gardens, at restaurants, and at the farm, so that during late fall we can harvest roselle weekly and undertake every inspiring recipe and preservation technique we can manage. Drying them, candying them, making jam, selling them to our neighbors and local restaurants so that they can do the same... roselle is magic! Oh, and did we forget to mention its health benefits!? Roselle is rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants and minerals like phosphorous and iron.
Roselle is a long growing plant and thusly is not well suited to areas with short warm growing seasons. Its recommended for zones 8 - 10 and can be planted in zones 6 and 7 if started indoors in a greenhouse. Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, California, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico are perfect states to try Roselle in. Allow a few Calyx to mature fully on the plant and split open and you can save your own seeds for next season.