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Synonyms: rosella, tea hibiscus, red tea, sorrel, Queensland jam plant, Florida cranberry

botanical name: Hibiscus sabdariffa L.


This plant from the mallow family is used in Germany exclusively in hibiscus tea. In its native countries, however, it is used in many more ways: tea is brewed, jute-like fibers are produced, and the residues are used in the production of paper. The plant that is cultivated today in all tropical regions probably stems originally from Africa.


Blossoms imported to Germany usually come from Sudan, Egypt, Thailand, Mexico or China.


Appearance, taste, characteristics

The herbaceous plant grows to about 2 m in height and has a smooth, upright stem of a colour that differs according to the variety. Its blossoms are 6-7 cm large and yellow, but red at the bottom. They open in the morning and wither again in the evening of the same day.


Both the calyx, which is still green when the seeds are mature but then turns pulpy and bright red, and the 2- to 8-cm-long leaves are edible. The latter have two shapes: they may be either ovoid or digitate and three-lobed. The scent of the roselle is described as weak and unpleasant, while its taste is tart and refreshing.



A number of fruit acids are responsible for the sour taste and make up 30-40% of the ingredients. Among the most important are malic acid, citric acid (these support the effect of antioxidants and prevent cut fruit from turning brown by inhibiting the responsible enzyme), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and tartaric acid (an antioxidant).


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

The pulpy, bright-red calyces with their seed capsules are eaten as fruit, further processed as soft drinks or jelly, or brewed and drunk as tea. In Africa they are often cooked and eaten as a side dish together with ground peanuts. For sauces or fillings for cakes and pastries the calyces may be left whole or cut up, to taste, and cooked with sugar. In taste and appearance, the result is almost no different from cranberry sauce. Juice is made by boiling down the calyces.


Because the calyx contains about 3.2% pectin, it is not necessary to add a jelling agent when making puddings, ice cream and jellies. In Germany the roselle is used chiefly as an ingredient in hibiscus tea, to which it gives the tart flavour and the red colour. When the seeds are separated from the fruit they are eaten like sesame seeds, but a good edible oil can be extracted from them as well. The leaves are also edible and are prepared like a vegetable.


In Africa, India and Mexico medicinal effects are attributed to the roselle. It is supposed to lower blood pressure, to be diuretic and antipyretic, and to stimulate intestinal activity. A tea is used as a cough remedy. Many other medicinal uses are presumed for the different parts of the plant, but they have not yet been confirmed. When large amounts are consumed, however, a laxative effect is observed.





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