Back in early June Jack planted Cranberry Hibiscus/False Roselle seeds. Here was the initial post after they had first sprouted...they certainly weathered the heat and extremes well. From those very small seeds emerged what appeared to be red maple seedlings. It is now early August, about three months total, and many of the plants tower over me.
The leaves are very similar to a red maple, or Japanese maple, sometimes appearing purplish with green tints intermingled, and sometimes tipped in vibrant crimson (especially the newer shoots and leaves).
These will benefit from getting cut back, since they are a bit lanky and need to be pruned in order to get a good bushy habit. I think that should also promote more flowers, too, as these will likely be blooming later in the year (let's see...it's our first time around with them).
We got them started in the plastic bins, but it's clear they need to be planted out soon. We're figuring that since they naturalize pretty easily in Florida in general, that they'll stand a better chance with freezes if they're in the ground and their roots can be better established by then. If they die back, they'll likely regrow from the roots. Again, let's see.
At a distance, their color here appears a dark plum color. Up close, the leaves are works of art, in every shade of plum, purple, violet, mauve, and the red spectrum. The veins are burgundy red.
We have tried eating both the tender emerging leaves (the dark red ones you see here at the tips) as well as the medium-sized leaves in teas. I've never tasted sorrell, but some folks describe the flavor as similar. To me, they have a mildly tart lemony flavor. The small tender leaves are very delicious in salads...we really like them! The other larger leaves are my current favorite in hot tea, especially combined with other medicinal tea plants. Right now I make a mix of fresh leaves of the false roselle (cranberry hibiscus), comfrey, moringa, and yerba buena...I feel good drinking it and even though I've been sick on and off this summer with a very stubborn respiratory infection, I do believe the tea helps give me a boost to build my immune system, or at least that's my hunch :)
I was delighted to find this video by Green Deane...fun and informative...check it out if you have time :)
But here's where the False Roselle is in its glory...with the blazing sun backlighting its leaves...this is the view out my dining area window (the only window visible from my kitchen), and when the sun is trying its best to wither and melt down everything in its path, the plucky false roselle's leaves gleam like jewels.
We are definitely keeping these for the longterm...they are so easy to grow from seed, they aren't bothered by extremes of weather, except for freezes, they are perrenial to our area for the most part, and for areas that have cold, they are easily grown from seed after the frosts. Prune them? They flourish and the pruned bits can be stuck into the soil to propagate more plants. They're delicious in salads and in stir fries...and teas.
When they flower, the blooms are a more delicate-looking version of a hibiscus, pink with purple veins, and though the flower has no taste, it is beautiful in salads. I can't wait to try them the way the ECHO global test farm recommends (check out the search bar for more about ECHO...we love them and use their seeds)...to pick them when the buds are closed near dusk and then to blend them with lime and sugar and serve as an iced drink...fresh limeade with a gorgeous pinkish glow...mmm!
When a plant is this versatile, I'm all about trying to think of how to use it in other ways. I wonder if the more tender medium-sized leaves could be used in recipes that would usually incorporate grape leaves, and if they might even be preserved for the longer term in brine the way grape leaves can. I haven't ventured much into the realm of making dolmas, but I've had some Greek food before, and eaten bits wrapped in grape leaves and thought them delicious. I wonder if the taste and texture of the false roselle leaves are close enough to grape leaves to serve as a delicious alternative with lemony undertones? Or if it would taste good flavoring a vinegar? Or included in jars of pickles (my grandma put grape leaves in hers along with the garlic and dill, etc) when canning. Or boiled with sugar and made into a simple syrup?
At any rate, if you have a hunch to try this plant, do! It's a great pollinator attractor and can be grown in clumps in the landscape, edible garden, or flowerbed.
We'll keep you posted as we transplant it and see how the bloom time goes, and how well it weathers our winter and some benign neglect from time to time. And I'll see if we can play with it a bit in the kitchen, too! If you have any ideas along those lines, let me know...I love to experiment :)