I enjoy trying new things, so this summer I experimented with growing Red Thai Roselle (Hibiscus Sabdariffa). I saw it in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog and thought it sounded interesting. They listed many uses such as tea, pie, and jelly, but using the leaves to make herbal tea appealed to me the most.
Although my garden didn’t have its best season, the Thai Roselle was one of the things that performed best. The plants were healthy and mostly pest-free. In researching the plant, I learned that it is a member of the Hibiscus family and a native of West Africa. Other names for it are Jamaican Sorrel, and Flor de Jamaica. In tropical areas it’s a perennial, but here in zone 6B I have to grow it as an annual. Growing in full sun, it needs at least 90 days to mature, and as long as 150 days to harvest. Mine is about 5′ tall and 3′ wide. Although the calyxes can be used to make jelly, mine hasn’t bloomed yet. I was excited to see them starting to form, but it’s already October so I don’t know if I’ll get to try them this year. Since we’re nearing the end of our growing season, I thought I had better go ahead and start harvesting and drying some of the leaves.
I cut off a bunch of the larger leaves, gave them a quick rinse in the sink, and lightly layered them on all nine trays of my Excalibur dehydrator. They actually dried pretty quickly. I tried leaving the leaves whole, thinking it would be easy to strip them from their stems when dry, and that worked beautifully. The first batch nearly filled a quart jar.
Of course, I was anxious to try the tea to see what it tasted like. I filled a tea infuser and steeped it several minutes. I had read it described as “cranberry,” and that’s pretty accurate. It was tart and tangy, with a beautiful red color. I sweetened mine with a sprinkle of stevia. Later when it cooled, I added some ice to try iced tea, and I think I liked it even better that way.
On herbal tea ingredient lists, I’ve seen “hibiscus” and am now wondering if it’s this variety that they use. This is just the beginning of experimenting with this interesting plant. Maybe next year I’ll get the seeds started earlier to experiment more with the calyxes. In the meantime I can try combining it with other herbal teas or enjoying it alone. When I’m chilled in the evenings, it’s nice to have a hot herbal tea to sip by the fire that won’t keep me from falling asleep. If you’re adventurous like me, you might have fun growing it in your garden.
Beautiful plant! I’m not sure we could grow it here, but when I was a child, my brother had a different type of hibiscus that he grew inside. It had beautiful pink flowers. The tea is pretty too! Have you ever tried growing stevia? My dad used to grow it, and use it in mint tea.
I did grow some stevia several years ago, but then didn’t know how to use it that way. I’ve since pinned some posts about it, so I may try again sometime.
Thanks for this post! You are absolutely right in guessing it’s the mysterious “hibiscus” ingredient in many herbal tea combinations!
I’m so glad you had good success with growing your roselle! I’d heard one elderly local saying he wished people would grow it these days, as the jelly was one of his childhood memories. This was when we lived MS, and enjoyed zone 8 winters. 😉 So I gave it a try. However, our soil was poor and so was my harvest. I did see a few of the fruits but not enough to excite me to try again next year. Then we moved. I’ve kept the memory, though and you’re inspiring me to try again, here.
Don’t you love Baker Seeds!
I do love Baker Seeds. They’ve really expanded my gardening horizons! Someone else commented on my post about how good the jelly was, so now I want to try that.
I think you could bring the plant indoors if you grew it in a pat, to begin with. Many people bring in their ornamental hibiscus every year. It won’t be totally happy, but if you have a south window, you should be able to keep it alive. 🙂 Maybe prune it a bit, if you can find instructions for that?
The plant is too big for indoors, and being tropical, it needs longer day length to flower. It’s trying to and we still don’t have a freeze in the forecast, so who knows. But we’ll see.
I have a hibiscus plant which gets more beautiful each year. I not sure of the exact species expect it is not the red Thai roselle – mine gets big pink flowers on. I haven’t tried making tea yet but next year I might just do that. Tweeting & pinning!
Interesting! I have heard a lot about hibiscus this year, and I think this is what everyone was talking about. I’m not much of a tea- drinker, but cranberry sounds interesting! Thanks for sharing, I may have to try it out.
I did not get too adventurous this year with my garden, but we had a lot going on…maybe next year I’ll mix it up a little more!
I’ve also had the idea to combine the Roselle tea with lemonade. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think that sounds good.
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I didn’t realize you could make the tea from the leaves as well. Where I live, dried calyxes are readily available (in fact, I made myself a pot last night). I also prefer it chilled. It really is just the best summertime thirst quencher.
When you make tea from the dried calyxes, how many do you use?
A handful. It works like tea leaves. Then strain and enjoy!