Worms and Flowers

Hibiscus Sabdariffa – Roselle

Posted in Garden by Lzyjo on December 26, 2008

Is the little-known power flower responsible for the unmistakable flavor of Celestial Seasons’ Red Zinger tea. The cranberry flavor is due to the high content of Ascorbic Acid, lending to such colloquial names as Jamaican Sorrel and Indian Sorrel because of the sour quality of the leaves, which can be added to curries, dals, or made into a sour condiment that goes great with rice. Personally, I have used the leaves as a substitute for Gongura (Hibiscus cannabinus) in Indian recipes.

hibiscus sabdariffa roselle

The calyces are used to make a refreshingly tart tea known as Agua de Jamaica in Mexico, or Karkade in Africa and the Middle East. Depending on the location, the drink is flavored with mint, ginger, or lemon juice. Because the caylces have such a high content of fruit acids, the tea has diuretic and laxative properties. The calyces contain fiber, minerals, carotene, and seventeen essential Amino Acids, some in high concentrations, making them a potent source of antioxidants important for maintaining cardiovascular and cellular health.

hibiscus sabdariffa roselle  calyces

Hibiscus Sabdariffa has been revered in Eastern medicine for treating many health problems, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even cancer. Modern media supports using Hibiscus Sabdariffa for weight loss, citing studies where mice fed Hibiscus Sabdariffa lost weight and showed improvement in several biological markers for obesity. A search of Google News turns up many health studies, including a 2004 study, published by Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy & Phytopharmacology, comparing the effectiveness of a once daily dose of Roselle to a twice daily dose of the high blood pressure medication captopril. Several high-end hair product manufacturers Phyto and John Masters, both sell for $20+ per bottle, are using Hibiscus Sabdariffa extracts in “reconstructing” and “intense nutrition” conditioners. Indian Ayurvedic recipes have recommend powdered calyces, honey, aloe, and other humectants, as deep conditioning treatments for centuries.


The calyces contain 3% pectin and can be cooked down into a beautiful ruby-colored self-jelling jam, by adding a small amount of water and sugar to taste. In the early 20th Century, Roselle was explored as a natural alternative to carcinogenic red food dyes derived from coal tar. The fibers in the woody stems of Sabdariffa, like its cousin Hibiscus Cannabinus, are used to make burlap, weave baskets, and make wigs, in some cultures. The photo below shows the resemblance between the Cannabis leaf and the palmate leaf of the Sabdariffa. I found this old leaf near the bottom of the plant, there are also three-lobed leaves and leaves with single lobes.


The plants are vigorous, effected by few pests and diseases and requiring no fertilizer to quickly spread to 2′ or 3′ wide and 2′ tall. Hibiscus sabdariffa is photoperiodic, waiting until the days shorten to 11 hours of sunlight, before it will flower, usually beginning in September and continuing until frost.

hibiscus sabdariffa roselle flower

When ready to harvest the calyces break off easily, while more mature pods must be cut. To store the calyces, I peel back the segments and tear them away from the base of the seed pod. Here, it takes about three days of drying in the sun until they get nice and crunchy.

hibiscus sabdariffa roselle seed pod


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