Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Roselle - How do I love thee!

Dear Folks,

I thought I would post more on the Roselle shrub.  This member of the Hibiscus family is a powerhouse of Vitamin C and antioxidants.

(Hibiscus sabdariffa) called Sorrel in the Caribbean and in Latin America and Flor de Jamaica in Mexico, is a tropical native of West Africa.

The flowers, leaves and swollen calyx are all edible.  The flowers only last 1 day and then the calyx begins to swell.  Starting out only about 1/4" by 1/2" long, the mature calyx before the seed pod matures can be between 1 1/2" and 2 inches long and a little less than that wide.  See this link for health, culinary and livestock feeding information.

The leaves are great in salads and because they grow so strongly during our hot weather are one of the "greens" is use in place of lettuce including on sandwiches or shredded into soups and stews.  In other parts of the world, the tangy leaves are pickled.

Harvesting means breaking open the calyx, removing the spent flower if it has not already dropped out, removed the seed pod (toss in compost), and breaking the "petals" of the calyx off the seed pod base.

Ready to dry or freeze.
Rinse and dry and now you have the fresh petals ready to use fresh, dry or freeze.

While the traditional use is as a beverage/tea/punch served hot or cold and sweetened, there are other fun ways to use this delicious cranberry/tangy food.

The other day I decided to make syrup while candying some of the petals.  Both turned out delicious and the candied petals really taste like sweetened cranberries.  The one thing I will do differently with my next patch of candying is to use fresh from harvest.  I chose to use thawed petals and they did not stay firm as I had anticipated.  While the thawed petals did have a firm quality to them, it was not enough to handle the boiling.  To candy bring 2 cups of water and 2/3 to 3/4 cup of sugar (I use organic) to a rolling boil.  Add rinsed roselle and boil at a high simmer for about 25 minutes.  Carefully strain petals and put on parchment or plastic wrap to dry.  Store syrup in the refrigerator.  Allow the petals to completely dry and store covered in a cool place.  Like other candied fruit you can choose to roll the slightly cooled petals in more sugar - I did not.

I like to use my homemade syrups to make fresh soda drinks.  The usual ratio is 1/4 cup of syrup to 3/4 cup of ice cold seltzer, or sparkling water of your choice.  Club soda is an option but has sodium added.  I am not a lover of sodas (I like a root beer once in a while - preferably in a root beer float :-), I do enjoy drinking seltzers in the warm weather with or without flavoring.

Sun drying the calyx is a piece of cake anytime we have sunny days over 85.  Use plastic or parchment paper or wire racks to dry. Cover with paper towel or netting to keep the bugs and birds off while drying.  The petals don't usually take more than 1 day to dry, but if not totally dry bring the trays back inside so they do not reabsorb moisture from night air and then just put them back out to finish drying.  (I was lucky enough some years ago to purchase just the trays from a dehydrator set up - giving me plenty of space to sun dry my bounty.)

One of the fun ways I have used the dried petals (fresh would work too) is to top a homemade turkey soup.  I had some soup last year and thought - hmmm - turkey and cranberries.  The contrast of the hot delicious soup with the cranberry/lemony flavor of the dried petals was really nice.  The petals softened slightly with the heat.

I am going to make some Roselle Jam with some of this year's harvest and I am going to make another version of my "Jam Bread" (a fruit and nut quick bread cake - think Christmas Fruit Cake only better) with pumpkin seeds (green) and some of the candied Roselle (red) which I think it is going to be wonderful.

My Jam Bread was the experiment result of realizing I had way too many jars of my homemade jams and those gifted to me by other cooks and I NEEDED to find a way to use up the jam.  When I got to thinking about fruit and nut cakes (quick breads) I really considered what went into them and saw that it was a liquid (water, milk etc.) and fruit and saw my jams with maybe some additional fruit plus nuts would work just fine and it did.  When I make the next jam fruit cake I will post pictures and the recipe I came up with.

Growing Roselle

Roselle loves-the-heat!  For valley locations and USDA Zone 9b and above sow the seeds directly in the ground in a full sun location or at least 8 hours at day, at the end of April, beginning of May.  Anywhere else you need to wait until the soil warms after last frost and you need to plan on an approximate 5+ months growing time.  My roselle sown at the end of April is starting to put out flower buds at the end of August/Beginning of September.  From that point the plant really goes into production with harvest of the calyx capable until into December if we do not get bad frosts. [Pictured the seeds have germinated in early May and are protected by a cardboard tube collar to keep the bugs / snails etc off - cut a 3 inch section of tube (paper towel or tp roll) and bury 1 inch of in the ground, sow the seed, and sprinkle every day with water until you see germination then start reducing the frequency and increasing the amount of the water to get the roots going deep.]

A happy plant can be 6+ feet wide and almost that tall with many branches and a 2+ inch diameter trunk. [Pictured the plant in early September putting out first buds and starting to grow longer and more branches.]

From the first flower, you can begin observing the calyx swelling quickly.  Some writers suggest waiting 10 days after the flower fades to harvest.  The longer you wait the bigger the calyx.  MAKE sure to allow as least a dozen or more to go to full seed maturity (dry).  Look for the seed pod to show split. The seed is mature enough to be viable then.

If you own poultry or other livestock, the seed is a healthy addition to their diets.  "The leaves are used for animal fodder and fibre (Plotto, 2004). The seeds can be used to feed poultry as well as sheep and the residue from the seeds oil extraction can also be used to feed cattle and chicks" --

I've probably forgotten to add some other bits of information so I would encourage you to do some of your own research and begin growing this great edible next spring.

Have a great day in the garden and kitchen!

You can find my growing calendars and books for sale on the sidebar here.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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