Hibiscus sabdariffa



Hibiscus sabdariffa

L. 1753

pronounced: hy-BISS-kuss sub-duh-RIFF-uh

(Malvaceae — the hibiscus family)


common name: rosella

Hibiscus is the ancient Latin name for the marshmallow plant Althaea officinalis, and was a transliteration from the Greek 'ιβισκος. The marshmallow plant has been used by man to make confectionary for at least 4,000 years. Sabdariffa is derived from a local Caribbean name.

This member of the hibiscus family originated in tropical West Africa. It is an attractive annual shrub that grows up to about 1.5 m in height, with large lobed reddish leaves and attractive pale yellow flowers with a maroon centre.

It is a very versatile plant. The bright red calyces are used for jams and sauces, and may also be dried to make tea. Rosella jam is a good jam for a novice jam-maker to start with, as it sets easily and stores well. The flower petals are edible, and may be used in salads and for garnishing. The leaves, when young and tender, may be steamed or stir-fried as a spinach-like vegetable. The seeds can be roasted and ground into a flour. The plant, with its deep red stems and prominently veined leaves, to say nothing of the brilliant calyces, is also sufficiently attractive to warrant its growing as an ornamental. The flowers do not last long (often only one day), and then the red calyces form around the large seed pod.

Plants normally begin to crop when about 3 months old, and cropping may continue for another 6 months if conditions are right. The first harvest is meagre, and the first flush of seed pods is generally removed to help promote further flowering and an improved later harvest. These early pods can be dried for tea-making, or frozen for later use. Many growers also prune out the tips of developing plants to encourage branching.

The pods are best removed when they can be easily picked by hand, before the flesh becomes hard and stringy. The inside seed pod should still be green when the fruit is picked. This is usually about 3 weeks after flowering.

Rosella plants can be propagated from either seeds or cuttings.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated 13th January 2019