Flor de Jamaica

September 26th, 2008

I’m not sure what motivated me to order seeds of Thai Red Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa). Maybe it was the description: “Beautiful 2-3’ plants with red stems, leaves, and flowers. The bright red calyxes can be used to make a “zingy” tea, sauce or jam.” Hmmm, well, the leaves on my plants are green, the flowers are creamy white with a red center. The stems are more or less red. I agree that it’s a beautiful plant. There’s a code word in that description however, and fans of a certain popular brand of herbal teas will recognize it. I didn’t. Duh.

Let’s rewind to last winter. I ordered the seeds. I sowed the seeds. I tended the seedlings in the cold frame and planted them outdoors. I watched them grow. They began to bloom in July.

I watched the Japanese beetles eat the leaves. And eventually I saw the “fruit”.

The red bud-like structures you see above are the calyces left behind after the flower drops off. They’re small at first and grow larger as the seed capsule inside matures.

Now that the fruit is here what do I do with it? Although I found many references online telling me how to prepare beverages from the dried calyces, I only found one that told me how to prepare the calyces for drying. It was the cutting-away-the-seed-part that I didn’t know about.

I harvested and dried the first batch a few weeks ago, and picked a small quantity this morning before the rain picked up again (Hooray!) (for the rain, I mean). This is what I brought in:

And this is what it looks like as you cut away the calyx from the seed, revealing the green seed capsule inside:

And this is what you end up with after you’ve cut and dried a large number of them:

I brewed a cup of tea this morning from it and thought it tasted similar to but much fresher and fruitier than the commercial stuff in teabags. After I read several conflicting sets of directions for preparing it, I ignored them all and put about a teaspoon of dried calyces into a mug-sized tea fiilter. After measuring it out, I crushed them with my fingers to a more tea-like consistency. I poured boiling water over it just as if I was making real tea (Camellia sinensis) but let it steep, covered, for 10 minutes. It brewed up cranberry red in color, very tart, but with an underlying fruit flavor. I’d be tempted to add sweetening to it next time, but I wanted to taste the flavor by itself first.

The plant and product are known by many different names – roselle, sorrel, jamaica, and karkady are some of the most common ones. The most attractive name, to my mind, is Flor de Jamaica. I plan to grow a lot more of these plants next year – I can envision a long hedge of them.

There are several good write-ups online if you want to know more.

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