Arguably one of the most delightful and delicious medicinal plants available to us is Hibiscus sabdariffa. Commonly known as Roselle, is a versatile and vibrant plant that is widely used and appreciated due to its unique flavour and health benefits.
Native to West Africa, Roselle has become a staple in various cuisines and traditional medicinal systems, and is as widely used for its vibrant colour and tart flavour as it is for the many medicinal benefits.
Historical and Traditional Uses
Roselle has a long history of use in various traditional medicine systems, particularly in West Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Its uses have ranged from treating digestive issues and respiratory infections to managing hypertension and maintaining heart health. In many cultures, Roselle has been consumed as a refreshing beverage to help cool the body and promote hydration.
In addition to its medicinal uses, Roselle has also played a role in culinary applications. The calyces, or the fleshy red sepals enclosing the plant's seedpods, are used to make drinks, jams, and sauces. The leaves are often consumed as a leafy vegetable, while the seeds are used for their oil or as a coffee substitute.
Today, Roselle is commonly used to make herbal teas, juices, and natural food colourings. The dried calyces are used as a popular ingredient in beverages like the Mexican Agua de Jamaica and the West African Bissap.
Roselle's popularity has also extended to the world of natural health and wellness, with many people consuming it for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic properties. It's available in various forms, such as tea, powder, and extract, making it easy for individuals to incorporate it into their wellness routines.
Health Benefits and Active Compounds
Roselle is rich in a range of bioactive compounds that contribute to its potential health benefits including anthocyanins, flavonoids, and organic acids. These compounds are believed to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic properties, among others.
Some studies have suggested that Roselle may help manage hypertension, as it has been shown to lower blood pressure in some individuals. Additionally, its antioxidant properties may help protect the body against oxidative stress and free radical damage, supporting overall health and well-being.
Precautions and Contraindications
While Roselle is generally considered safe for most individuals, there are some precautions and contraindications to keep in mind:
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Due to limited research proving it’s safety during these times, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding may wish to avoid its consumption.
- Low blood pressure: As Roselle may lower blood pressure, individuals with very low blood pressure or those taking blood pressure medications should consult with a healthcare professional before consuming it.
- Diabetes: Roselle may affect blood sugar levels, so individuals with diabetes or those taking medications to manage blood sugar should consult a healthcare professional before using Roselle.
Nutritious Roselle Recipes
To help you incorporate Roselle into your diet, here are some easy recipes:
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup dried Roselle calyces
- Honey or sweetener of choice (optional)
- Pour boiling water over the dried Roselle calyces, cover and steep for 10-15 minutes.
- Strain the tea into a teapot or cups, discarding the calyces.
- Sweeten with honey or your preferred sweetener, if desired. Enjoy the tea hot or let it cool and serve over ice for a refreshing cold beverage.
- 4 cups fresh Roselle calyces, chopped
- 3 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- In a large saucepan, combine the chopped Roselle calyces and sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the lemon juice and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes, or until the mixture reaches a jam-like consistency.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the jam cool. Transfer it to sterilised jars and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Enjoy the Roselle jam on toast, pastries, or as a topping for yogurt or ice cream.
Roselle and Spinach Salad
- 2 cups fresh Roselle leaves, chopped
- 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a large salad bowl, combine the chopped Roselle leaves, spinach leaves, cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, and toasted walnuts.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently to combine. Serve immediately as a refreshing and nutritious side dish.
Cultivating Roselle in a Home Garden
Growing Roselle in your home garden can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to enjoy its beautiful flowers and harvest its flavourful calyces. Roselle is a tropical plant and thrives in warm climates, but it can also be grown in cooler regions with some extra care.
To cultivate Roselle in your garden, follow these steps:
- Choose a sunny location with well-draining soil. Roselle prefers full sun and will produce the best yield in a spot that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day.
- Prepare the soil by adding organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, to improve its fertility and drainage. Roselle prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
- Sow the seeds directly in the garden after the last frost, or start them indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost if you live in a cooler climate. Space the seeds about 18-24 inches apart and cover them with 1/4 inch of soil.
- Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Roselle is moderately drought-tolerant but will produce the best yield with regular watering.
- Fertilise the plants with a balanced, slow-release fertiliser or organic compost every 4-6 weeks throughout the growing season.
- Prune the plants regularly to encourage branching and bushier growth. Pinch off the growing tips when the plants reach 12-18 inches in height.
- Harvest the calyces when they are plump and bright red, typically 3-4 weeks after the flowers bloom. The leaves and young seedpods can also be harvested for consumption.
- Ali, B. H., Al Wabel, N., & Blunden, G. (2005). Phytochemical, pharmacological and toxicological aspects of Hibiscus sabdariffa L.: a review. Phytotherapy Research, 19(5), 369-375.
- Da-Costa-Rocha, I., Bonnlaender, B., Sievers, H., Pischel, I., & Heinrich, M. (2014). Hibiscus sabdariffa L. – A phytochemical and pharmacological review. Food Chemistry, 165, 424-443.
- Hopkins, A. L., Lamm, M. G., Funk, J. L., & Ritenbaugh, C. (2013). Hibiscus sabdariffa L. in the treatment of hypertension and hyperlipidemia: a comprehensive review of animal and human studies. Fitoterapia, 85, 84-94.
- McKay, D. L., Chen, C. Y., Saltzman, E., & Blumberg, J. B. (2010). Hibiscus sabdariffa L. tea (tisane) lowers blood pressure in prehypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults. Journal of Nutrition, 140(2), 298-303.
- Morton, J. (1987). Roselle. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL, pp. 281-286.