false roselle: edible cranberry hibiscus

cranberry hibiscus

False Roselle – Growing Cranberry Hibiscus for tea and salads
The Cranberry Hibiscus aka False Roselle is another one of my favorite plants in the food forest. It is edible, beautiful, fast-growing and easy to propagate.

False Roselle is a fast-growing plant, making it an excellent source of biomass in the garden.
Easy to propagate by cuttings. As the plants reach 3-5 feet tall, I cut them back and stick the branches into the ground to create new plants.
All parts of the plant are edible and they contain a lot of flavors
Feed for livestock: Our chickens and tortoise eat the leaves and flowers.
Also Known As Hibiscus Species, Red-Leaf Hibiscus, False Roselle, African Rose Mallow, Maroon Mallow, Red Shield Hibiscus

Not to be confused with a Roselle, which has way larger calyxes.

Cranberry Hibiscus Growing Requirements:
The cranberry hibiscus is sensitive to frost. Mine will normally die back in the winter and all the seeds that dropped in the fall will sprout again in the spring.

Height and Spacing

Height: 10 feet or taller! I keep mine trimmed way back like bushes (and I replant the cuttings). If left to grow out of control, they will become top-heavy and flop over from the weight of their leaves.

Sun Exposure

Full to part sun: Here in zone 9, they aren’t picky but in the heat of the summer, the cranberry hibiscus planted in part sun looks a little better than those in full sun

Soil and Water Requirements

I have these planted all over my yard. They are fairly drought tolerant but the ones in low lying areas (moist soil) tend to look the best. I saw them for sale in the pond section of a garden center so I am assuming they will grow in standing water as well.

I keep my cranberry hibiscus well mulched with leaves, twigs and wood chips, which keep in moisture and leaches rich, organic nutrients into the soil as it decomposes.

Bloom Characteristics and Foliage

Cranberry hibiscus flowers are beautiful but only last a day. Here in zone 9, the cranberry hibiscus plant will flower sporadically throughout the fall and the seed pods are usually dried and ready to pick in early to mid-winter.

The self-pollinating flowers have 5 petals and the deep burgundy leaves are very unique and look like red maples and will darken with age.

false roselle leaves for tea and salad

Cranberry Hibiscus Propagation
If you have access to a cranberry hibiscus plant, the easiest way to propagate it (make more plants) is by cuttings. If you don’t, they also sprout easily and quickly from seeds you can purchase here on Amazon. I am working hard to set up my online store so I can sell my own seeds, stay tuned or keep checking our eBay store.

Growing Cranberry Hibiscus From Cuttings
Cuttings are the easiest way to propagate cranberry hibiscus plants.

Cranberry Hibiscus false roselle Cuttings

I cut a handful of branches 6-12″ in length, remove the last few inches of leaves, poke a hole in the ground and place 3 of the cuttings in the hole.

If you only place one cutting in the hole, it will look pretty skimpy when it grows.

I like to plant my cuttings during the rainy, summer months when the heat encourages growth and I don’t have to worry about watering. Otherwise, water the newly planted cuttings everyday for the first week, until established.

Growing Cranberry Hibiscus from Seeds
Collect your own seeds or buy them here. The edible flowers on the False Roselle are only open for a day, then it dies back and falls off. A few days later, you will see a seed pod beginning to form.

Cranberry Hibiscus False Roselle flower Seed Pod Growing

(The part encasing the seed pod is what holds the most flavor. This is the part you want to boil to make tea.) If you open the seed pod when it is still green, it will contain white seeds (shown below) which can be left in the sun to dry.

Inside False Roselle Cranberry Hibiscus flower Seed Pod

I prefer to leave the pods on the plant and allow it to dry out. The pods will turn brown and crunch. If you leave them too long, the pod will crack open, and drop the seeds in the yard where they will sprout again in the spring.

Eat Cranberry Hibiscus
The leaves of a false roselle are eaten in salads and stir fries and the sepals and calyx are boiled and made into a delicious cranberry tea or juice. False roselle is a popular food in Brazil where it is cooked and eaten like spinach.

Eat the leaves
Pick the baby leaves as they have the best texture and flavor. The cranberry flavored leaves add an interesting flavor when mixed in with other lettuces in a salad.

Eat the sepals
Eat the sepals! These are so good. Sepals are the finger like leaves that stick out of the calyx (the part that holds the bloom and seed pod). These are the part of the Cranberry Hibiscus that holds the most flavor. They only form when the flowers are in bloom during fall and winter. I pick these off and eat them right in the garden.

Eat the calyx
I collect the calyx (with the sepals still attached and boil them to make a cranberry flavored tea, or put the liquid on ice to make a cranberry flavored juice.

False Roselle: How to make Cranberry Hibiscus Tea
Once the flowers die back and fall off, a seed pod will from and grow inside the calyx. After 1-2 weeks, the seed pods will be plump and green. Cut the pods off the plant with scissors.

I use these gloves (Amazon link) to remove the seed pods. They are thin enough for tedious tasks, yet thick enough to prevent the spikes from getting you.

Cranberry Hibiscus False Roselle Seed Pods and Calyx

Carefully (they have spikes) remove the seed pods from the calyx
Rinse the calyxes under cool water
Boil for 5 minutes
Strain. Drink the liquid cold like juice or hot like tea.
Most of the Hibiscus tea you find online is made out of the Roselle plant (not the False Roselle). The flavors are similar, but the calyxes are much bigger on the Roselle making it much easier when separating the calyx. Although it is more work, I prefer the False Roselle because it is a much prettier plant than the Roselle.

How to eat Hibiscus Flowers
Most people boil the flowers and calyx as a tea, but there are lot of different ways to enjoy them. The beautiful hibiscus flowers add a brilliant, red color to many drinks, snacks and salad.

Candied Hibiscus Flowers: Great in salads or as a popcorn-like snack
Clean and dry your hibiscus flowers, petals or calyx.
Paint a super thin layer of egg white onto each side of the flower petals or blossoms.
Coat with a fine sugar (can sprinkle it on or roll in it)
Place them on a piece of parchment paper.
Place in a dehydrator or Bake at 170 degrees for about 7 hours.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Hibiscus Syrup: For use in mix drinks
Mix drink: Mix syrup, water, tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice and serve over ice.

Simmer 2 cups of water with sugar, cinnamon stick, ginger slices and cloves until the sugar is completely dissolved (5 minutes).
Remove from heat, and stir in the hibiscus blossoms.
Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
Strain the dark red syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a glass pitcher.
Stir lime juice and 2 cups water
Refrigerate until ready to use.
Jams, jelly and Dressings
We have enjoyed Hibiscus Jam spread on toast, mixed in yogurt, or on ice cream.

Making Jam:

Rinse flowers in cold water.
Bring flowers and water to a boil; cook for 15 minutes.
Strain the juice with a strainer or with cheesecloth
Add 2 spoonfuls of sugar, whisk and bring to a boil
Add more sugar and boil 3 minutes.
Put the jam in mason jars and screw the lids firmly, then
Invert jars and let cool.
There are many other recipes for making Cranberry Hibiscus jams, jelly and dressings.

I’ve read about people using cranberry hibiscus leaves for rhubarb pie, the calyxes for jam and for making chutney. We look forward to making some this year and sharing our results.

Cranberry Hibiscus: Pests
If you pay attention to your garden and catch pests before they lay hundreds of eggs, you will be able to keep them under control.

Learn to identify your garden bugs. Some bugs eat pests, and you don’t want to kill them. It’s best to pick off the “bad” bugs, eggs and cocoons by hand. We love finding bugs so we can feed them to our fish.
We also use this sticky paste and pads to catch bugs without chemicals. These are nice so you can see what bugs are lurking in your garden. Master Gardeners usually meet at local libraries a few times a month, you can bring them your sticky pad full of bugs and ask them to help you identify them for you.
alternative to pesticide to rid garden bugs and pests

(Amazon Link – Alternative to Pesticide)

White Flies: To remove white flies, spray the leaves with your hose on jet stream a few times a day. Eventually, you will disrupt the mating cycle and they will disappear.

Thrips: These pests feed on developing flowers or vegetables and hide in crevices of leaves. They build up immunity to pesticides and the best defense against them is predators and keeping the ground mulched and clear of weeds and grasses where they also feed.

Mealy Bugs: Another hard pest to get rid of. I simply remove them and put them in our fish tank. But you can wipe them off with a cotton ball and alcohol.

Aphids: You will know you have aphids when you see ants. The ants eat the honey-like sap the aphids leave behind. Ants are great predators to have in the garden, so this is a kind of a catch 22. As long as the aphids aren’t on my edibles, I usually leave them alone.

Japanese beetle, Sri Lanka weevil.

Frequently Asked Questions:
Where can I buy Cranberry Hibiscus Seeds?
You can purchase them on Amazon here. The seeds are very tedious to extract from the seed pod, but I’m going to do it this year and try to sell them.

What is the best way to propagate (grow more) Cranberry Hibiscus?
False roselle is easy to grow from cuttings or seeds. Cut several 3-6″ pieces off the plant, remove the last few leaves and stick 3-4 cuttings into the same hole. (If you only grow one cutting, it will look very scraggly). Keep the cutting watered. It will droop for a few days, perk up then continue to grow.

For seeds, wait for a flower to die (the only last 1-2 days) and fall off. The remaining calyx will dry and turn brown. Carefully separate it (the spikes will stick in your fingers) and remove the dark black seeds.

Although I am in zone 9b, my red hibiscus tends to die in the winter if we get a few nights of freezing temperatures, but, every year it comes back from the seeds that dropped.

Can you eat Cranberry Hibiscus?
Yes! The leaves are edible (eat the smaller new leaves, they taste better than the bigger leaves) and can be eaten raw or cooked in small quantities. Use the leaves as an addition to a salad, a salad full of false roselle leaves will be overbearing. You can also make a tea or juice from the old flower blooms.

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