Thai Red Roselle, a.k.a. the Tea Hibiscus Plant
In celebration of Eat a Rainbow Week, we brought samples of bright red iced hibiscus tea to the Pittsboro Farmers’ Market this week.
Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is a species of hibiscus with edible calyxes (sepals which form at the base of the flowers to protect the developing fruit). It is grown as a commercial plant in Jamaica and in areas of Southeast Asia, and is often called flor de Jamaica/Jamaica flower. Roselle was also a popular garden plant in the southeastern United States in the early twentieth century, earning it the nickname Florida Cranberry.
The calyxes can be used fresh or dried to make tea. Fresh calyxes are naturally high in pectin, so they can also be used to make tangy jams and jellies, and are the main ingredient in a Southern version of cranberry sauce.
Iced Roselle/Hibiscus Tea (makes 1 quart)
- 1 pint fresh (about 1/3 lb) or ½ ounce dried hibiscus calyxes
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 3 or 4 whole cloves
- 3 or 4 whole allspice berries
- 2 to 4 Tbsp sugar, agave nectar, or other sweetener
- 4 cups cold water
If using fresh calyxes, prepare them by slicing in half lengthwise (through the stem), carefully popping out and discarding the green fruits, and rinsing the calyx halves.
Combine the hibiscus and spices with 3 cups of water in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and allow the mixture to steep for 10-15 minutes if using dried hibiscus and 20-30 minutes if using fresh.
Strain the mixture into a 1-quart jar or pitcher and stir in the desired amount of sweetener and the remaining cup of cold water.
Hot Roselle/Hibiscus Tea
Crush the dried calyxes, or pulse them a few times in a coffee grinder to reduce them into smaller pieces (but don’t turn them into a powder). Use 1 to 3 teaspoons of the hibiscus pieces per cup of tea. Put the hibiscus in a tea strainer or bag, place in a cup and cover with boiling water. Steep 5 to 10 minutes, or until desired strength is achieved. Sweeten to taste.