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.