Roselle Puts Red Zing In Tea

Shree Rawal established Govinda Farm in 2011 after attending a six-week organic farming course at Kauai Community College. Located in Moloaa, the farm cultivates 3.5 acres organically and is working toward USDA organic certification.

Every Friday, Christina and Vajra Lagdameo-Romano go to The Feral Pig and distribute community-supported agriculture (CSA) boxes of just harvested produce.

What’s growing now: Arugula, avocado, banana, basil (Italian, lemon) beets, carrots, chard (Swiss, rainbow), cilantro, collard greens, eggplant, ginger, green beans, kale, lemon cucumber, lettuce (curly green, magenta) loofah, marjoram, mint, okra, onion (red, scallions), oregano, parsley (curly, Italian), papaya, radish, sage, spinach, thyme, tomatoes, turnips.


Hibiscus sabdariffa, commonly known as Thai roselle, is what puts the zing in Celestial Seasonings’ Red Zinger Tea. Vernacular names include rozelle, sorrel, red sorrel, Jamaica sorrel, Indian sorrel, Guinea sorrel, sour-sour, Queensland jelly plant, jelly okra, lemon bush and Florida cranberry. 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.

Flowers, borne singly in the leaf axils, are yellow or buff with a rose or maroon eye and turn pink as they wither at the end of the day. At this time, the typically red calyx, consisting of five large sepals with a collar around the base, begins to enlarge, become fleshy, crisp and juicy, and fully encloses the velvety capsule. The calyx, stems and leaves are acidic and closely resemble cranberries in flavor.

Season: This is a fall crop. If seeds are planted in March, transplanted to the garden in May, fruit will be available in November and December.

What to look for: Choose plump, bright-red pods.

Storage: Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Tip: The seeds are considered excellent feed for chickens.

Preparation: Wash, cut along base and remove seed capsule. Chop and add to fruit salads or use in sauces, syrups, jams, marmalades, relishes, chutneys or jellies. Add whole to water for tea or as a filling for tarts and pies. Use instead of cranberries at Thanksgiving. In Africa, they are frequently cooked as a side dish and eaten with pulverized peanuts. Roselle sauce or syrup (6 cups roselle calyces, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 1/4 cups sugar) can be added to puddings, cake frosting, gelatins and salad dressings, poured over gingerbread, pancakes, waffles or ice cream. Calyces contain 3.19-percent pectin, so it is not necessary to add pectin to make a firm jelly. In Jamaica, a traditional Christmas drink is prepared by putting roselle into an earthenware jug with a little grated ginger and sugar as desired, pouring boiling water over it and letting it stand overnight. The liquid is drained off and served with ice and often with a dash of rum. The young leaves and tender stems of roselle are eaten raw in salads or cooked as greens alone or in combination with other vegetables or with meat or fish. They also are added to curries as seasoning.

Health benefits: Roselle is high in calcium, niacin, riboflavin and iron. Scientific studies indicate that roselle can lower blood pressure and inhibit the angiotensin converting enzymes that play a part in raising blood pressure. A study from Tufts University suggested that daily consumption of roselle tea lowers blood pressure in pre- and mildly hyper-tensive adults. Another biomedical study showed that giving 500 mls of roselle tea to patients with mild to moderate hypertension was as effective as giving them the anti-hypertensive drug Captopril. Roselle exhibits strong antioxidant activity. Scientists from Chung Shan University in Taiwan report that these antioxidant properties are comparable to red wine and tea, and may reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Drinking a cup of hibiscus tea after meals can reduce the absorption of carbohydrates and assist in weight loss. Painful symptoms of cystitis and UTIs often are alleviated by cranberry juice. A study conducted by the Cystitis and Overactive Bladder Foundation (COB) found roselle tea to be more effective than cranberry juice in relieving these conditions.

Govinda Farm’s produce can be found at: Farmers Market: Hanalei (Saturdays, 9:30 to noon) Restaurants: Hukilau Lanai, Coconut Cup Juice Bar & Cafe, Monico’s Taqueria, Shivalik,
The Feral Pig. Grocery: Hoku Natural Foods, Papaya’s Natural Foods & Cafe, Harvest Market. For more information or CSA membership, email Roselle is available from the CSA, Hanalei farmers market and Papaya’s Natural Foods & Cafe.


Roselle has been used in traditional medicine for many centuries, its vivid flowers and calyces often steeped to make a striking red tea. I prefer it unsweetened.

Makes 6 cups.

* 6 roselle calyces, sliced in half
* 1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, smashed
* 6 cups water

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil and add ginger. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add roselle and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Strain and cool or serve over ice.