Growing & Using Roselle Hibiscus

By Rhonda Bell, Bexar County Master Gardener Intern

March 2023

Roselle Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), also known as Jamaican Sorrel or Florida Cranberry, is a tropical plant native to West Africa. With its bright red calyx and tart flavor, it has long been used in drinks, teas, and culinary dishes in many cultures around the world. This plant is versatile and attractive, easy to grow and is an excellent addition to any garden.

Growing Roselle Hibiscus

Climate: This plant thrives in hot and humid climates, making it an ideal choice for tropical and subtropical regions. It will grow well in temperatures ranging from 60°F to 95°F. It tolerates the heat well. The growing season is late spring and summer. This annual plant will not survive cold and frost.

Soil: Roselle Hibiscus needs well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Before planting, make sure to amend the soil with compost to improve its texture and fertility.

Light: Roselle prefers full sun, but it can also grow in partial shade. Make sure to provide at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day to promote healthy growth and flowering.

Watering: Roselle Hibiscus is drought-tolerant, but it needs consistent moisture to thrive. Make sure to water the plants regularly, especially during super-hot, dry periods. Avoid overwatering as the plant is hardy and can thrive in the heat.

Pruning: This plant produces a lot of growth and can become quite leggy if not properly pruned. Prune regularly to promote bushier growth and encourage the production of more flowers. Higher flower yield will allow more calyxes for culinary use.

Pests and Diseases: Roselle Hibiscus is relatively disease-resistant, but can be susceptible to pests such as aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites. Keep an eye out for these pests and treat them promptly with an appropriate remedy.

Using Roselle in Cooking

Roselle Hibiscus can be used in a variety of culinary applications. Some of the most popular uses include:

Drinks: Roselle is often made into a drink by boiling the calyx in water and adding sugar, spices, and sometimes ginger. The resulting drink is a sweet, tart, and refreshing beverage popular around the holidays. The dried calyx can be used to make a tea that is said to have health benefits, including aiding digestion and reducing stress.

Sauces and Jams: The tart cranberry-like flavor of Roselle makes it a popular ingredient in sauces, jams, and jellies. The seeds pods and calyxes are both used to create the jam. The calyxes are peeled away from the seed pods and separated. The seed pods are then boiled in enough water to cover the pods and the result creates a pectin-like concoction. Meanwhile, the calyx petals should be chopped up fine and mixed with sugar and cooked over medium high heat to a boil. Stir often, and once the petals are cooked and tender, return your attention to the seed pod liquid, strain and add the liquid from the pods to the calyx mixture and stir. Bring it back to a boil for a few moments. Test the jam for set by smearing a small spoonful on a glass plate. If the jam sets up and looks like a jam should then it’s done. The jam should be canned immediately and sealed in a water bath.

Whether you’re a seasoned cook or just starting out, try growing Roselle Hibiscus and see how it can enhance your garden space and culinary creations!

All photos by author