Hibiscus sabdariffa commonly known as roselle, rosella, Florida cranberry, Indian sorrel, Jamaican sorrel, and Flor de Jamaica is a beautiful, useful and tasty plant for the home landscape. Years ago it was widely grown in Florida as a summertime hedge and for its edible calyces (not the flowers as is widely believed) called Florida cranberries.
Why this plant is not now more widely grown and known in Florida is a mystery. The plant’s dark green leaves contrast nicely with the red stems and petioles, the light pink flowers brighten October and November mornings (by noon the flowers fold and often drop off the calyx) and the fleshy red calyces are interesting looking.
Roselle is an annual started from seed and does best in full sun. Grow roselle where it will have plenty of room, it can become a large plant (4 to 7 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide) so thin plants to about 3 ft apart. Roselle prefers moist, rich, well-drained soil and appreciates being mulched. In Florida, roselle is often planted in rows where it forms a dense hedge by late summer. When grown for juice production, roselle is cultivated much like tomatoes, peppers or eggplants. Roselle is a short-day plant and photoperiodic which means that it will not begin to flower until the days become shorter in the fall. The calyces of roselle ripen progressively from the lowest to the highest and are harvested when full-grown but still tender (about 5 to 10 days after the flowers appear) and, at this stage, are easily snapped off by hand. They are easier to break off in the morning than at the end of the day. If late to harvest and the stems have toughened, clippers must be used. The plants will continue to flower and produce if the calyces are regularly picked. Leave a few select calyces to fully ripen and seed pods to develop so you will have seeds to save for the next growing season (I purchased my initial seeds from Onalee’s Seeds & Plants).
To make a refreshing cranberry-like drink (similar to cranberry juice, but not as bitter) which may be enjoyed hot or cold, bring 2 quarts of calyces (washed and seed pods removed) and 1 quart of water to a boil, simmer for 3 minutes and steep for another 3 minutes, then strain the pulp and add sugar or honey to taste. You can also try adding lemon and or orange juice or green tea for different and interesting flavors or make jelly or wine as you would with any fruit juice. The strained pulp can be used for jam or pie. In Jamaica, a traditional Christmas drink is prepared by putting roselle into a jug with a little grated ginger and sugar, pouring boiling water over it and letting it stand overnight. The liquid is drained off and served with ice and often with a dash of rum!
Source: Morton, J. 1987. Roselle. p. 281–286. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.