The hibiscus plant is known worldwide, and by a number of names in addition to the most common, roselle. In English-speaking regions, it is known as rozelle, sorrel, red sorrel, Jamaican sorrel, Indian sorrel, Guinea sorrel, sour-sour, Queensland jelly plant, jelly okra, lemon bush, and Florida cranberry. In French, roselle is called oseille rouge, or oseille de Guinée; in Spanish, quimbombó chino, sereni, rosa de Jamaica, flor de Jamaica, Jamaica, agria, agrio de Guinea, quetmia ácida, viña and viñuela; in Portuguese, vinagreira, azeda de Guiné, cururú azédo, and quiabeiro azédo; in Dutch (Surinam), zuring.
Around North Africa and the Near East roselle is called karkadé or carcadé and it is known by these names in the pharmaceutical and food-flavoring trades in Europe. In Senegal and West Africa, the common name is bisap.The names flor de Jamaica and hibiscus flores (the latter employed by “health food” vendors), are misleading because the calyces are sold, not the flowers.
While native to the region between India and Malaysia, the age of exploration and colonization began the process of slow but steady worldwide dissemination of Roselle seeds. Historical record demonstrated the edibility of the flowers in 1687, and by 1707, roselle was successfully grown in Brazil and Jamaica. In the 1840s, travelers through Guadalajara in Mexico observed large scale cultivation for food. Seeds were brought to Florida from Jamaica around 1887, and by 1907, fresh calyces were sold by the quart in the markets of Southern Florida, used to make jams and beverages like agua de jamaica. By 1954, roselle was still being grown throughout the Midwestern United States for its edible herbage. Today, it is cultivated successfully in the tropical regions of both hemispheres, in it’s native habitat in South-West Asia, but also in China, the Phillipines, Hawaii, Central America, California, Florida, Australia, and North and Central Africa.
UsesMany centuries of cultivation have discovered a multitude of uses. Of the more than 600 species of hibiscus, only the roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is commonly grown for its edibility. A fiber can be obtained from the stem, and can be used to make sackcloth, twine, and cord. A yellow dye can be obtained from the petals, and the seeds yield oil as well. Most importantly, the plant has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes.
There are over 19,000 known varieties of roselle, but the most common are as follows:
Rico: relatively low-growing, spreading, with simple leaves borne over a long period and the lobed leaves mostly 3-parted. Flower has dark-red eye and golden-yellow pollen. Mature calyx to 2 in (5 cm) long and to 1 1/4 in (3.2 cm) wide; bracts plump and stiffly horizontal. Highest yielder of calyces per plant. Juice and preserves of calyx and herbage rich-red.
Victor–a superior selection from seedlings grown at the Subtropical Garden in Miami in 1906. Plant taller–to 7 ft (2.13 m), more erect and robust. Flower has dark-red eye and golden-brown pollen. It blooms somewhat earlier than ‘Rico’. Calyces as long as those of ‘Rico’ but slenderer and more pointed at apex; bracts longer, slenderer and curved upward. Juice and preserves of calyx and herbage rich-red.
Archer (sometimes called “white sorrel”) resulted from seed sent to Wester by A.S. Archer of the island of Antigua. It is believed to be of the race albus. Edward Long referred to “white” as well as red roselle as being grown in most gardens of Jamaica in 1774. Plant is as tall and robust as ‘Victor’ but has green stems. Flower is yellow with deeper yellow eye and pale-brown pollen. Calyx is green or greenish-white and smaller than in the 2 preceding, but the yield per plant is much greater. Juice and other products are nearly colorless to amber. Green-fruited roselle is grown throughout Senegal, but especially in the Cape Vert region, mainly for use as a vegetable.