Roselle, also known as Hibiscus, Jamaica, or Sorrel, is a short annual shrub in the Malvaceae family native to West Africa and introduced to India and Southeast Asia. It was brought to the Caribbean in the 1600’s during the slave trade. It has palmate leaves with 3-5 lobes. It has 3-4 inch yellow petaled flowers that drop off, leaving the protective, magenta sepals, which swell into a “fruit” after about 6 months. Hibiscus sabdariffa grows in similar conditions to that of tomatoes, and prefers sunny, well drained soil full of organic matter. Too much nitrogen in the soil, however, will delay the “fruit” production. It’s best started inside, then transplanted when they get a few inches tall. It will not survive frosts.
High in vitamin C and antioxidants, Roselle is a popular folk medicine and ingredient in cooling drinks. Because of it’s astringent qualities, an infusion of the fruit can be used to treat wet coughs, as it is in Sudan, treat mild diarrhea, and dress wounds. The dried petals are known to treat fevers and tapeworm. It’s also shown in studies to have anti-hypertensive qualities, help eliminate kidney stones, and aid digestion. A lotion or salve made from the leaves is supposed to help heal wounds and sores. Brazilians attribute stomachic, emollient and resolutive properties to the bitter roots.
Roselle is a common additive to juices, jellies, wines, popsicles, teas, and sauces, imparting a tart flavor and deep magenta color. The young leaves of the plant are also used in dishes and curries across Senegal, Thailand, India, and Myanmar, such as this recipe for Gongura Pachadi from Andhra Pradesh in Eastern India. It’s also a refreshing drink found in Mexico and Central America as Agua de Jamaica and in Trinidad and Tobago as Sorrel Drink. I’ve seen some other interesting recipes on The Indian Vegan, which also has a cool database of Indian fruits and vegetables. The stems are often used similarly to jute for their fibers. In folk medicine, it’s used as a diuretic, mild laxative, and treatment for cardiac and nervous disorders and cancer. It’s also a popular hangover remedy.
As an infusion, it can be drunk liberally throughout the day. With any diuretic, be sure to increase potassium and fluid intake while using this herb. Its a good herb for children with mild coughs, as it has a pleasant, lemonade like flavor.
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