Hibiscus (Roselle) Plant

Hibiscus (Roselle) PlantHibiscus sabdariffa, native to Africa and commonly called roselle, jamaica or sorrel, produces large showy flowers with shiny carmine calyces (sepal casings) at their base.  Its domestication has been traced back to 4,000 BC in the territory of modern-day Sudan and Egypt.  Now widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas across the globe, this variety of hibiscus was probably transported east to Asia along the Spice Routes around 2,000 BC, and then west to Latin America by 17th century Portuguese explorers.  Roselle is grown for several reasons.  In North Africa, its leaves are a prized vegetable, added raw to salads or used as cooked greens like a spicy version of spinach. They factor into many of the region’s classic recipes such as thieboudienne, Senegal’s renowned fish and rice dish. The seeds are also sometimes roasted for a coffee substitute, and all parts of the plant are used in local forms of traditional medicine. But most of this plant’s economic value comes from the red calyx, particularly for the making of hibiscus tea.  Hibiscus tea (technically a tisane or herbal infusion) was drunk as early as the time of the pharaohs in the ancient Nile Valley, then considered a drink of the nobility due to its believed health-giving properties.  Today, it is a staple beverage enjoyed by all throughout Africa, the Middle East, India, Asia and Latin America.