Asian Sour Leaf Hibiscus (Roselle/Sorrel)
Seed Count: Approx. 20 seeds
Days to Maturity: 90 days
Description: Asian Sour Leaf Hibiscus, also known as Thai Roselle, Florida Cranberry, and Jamaican Sorrel, is a member of the hibiscus family and a relative of okra, hollyhocks, and mallows. This variety is a heat tolerant perennial in warmer zones, but can be grown as an annual in areas with cold winters. These attractive plants grow 3-5 ft. tall, and boast red stems, and veins, with dark green leaves. Their bright burgundy calixes have a tangy, citrusy, tart flavor, similar to a cranberry, and can be used to create delicious teas, chutneys, syrups, sauces, and jams. The flowers, and leaves are also edible. Try adding them to salads or stir fries for a fun lemony addition. Can be grown in containers.
How To Grow
Sowing: Roselle loves heat, so growers with short growing seasons will need to start their seeds indoors. Set seeds outside, about 3-4 weeks after the last frost. Before planting your seeds, soak them overnight; this can help with faster germination, however, I never bother. Plant 2-3 seeds in one peat pot, and keep them at 75-85 degrees F until they germinate. Will germinate in 7-14 days. Thin to the strongest seedling by cutting off the rest of the plants at their bases. When the air temperature reaches a consistent 65-70 degrees F, you can harden off your seedlings and plant them in full sun, 2-3 ft. apart in rows 3 ft. apart. For direct sowing, in warmer climates, sow the seeds 3/4" deep; later thinning the plants to 2-3 ft apart (the further apart they are planted the more calixes you will get). You can plant roselle in pots as long as they are at least 5 gallons, however you may have to watch the plants, as pots this small may dry out very quickly. I usually grow only one plant per 10 gallon fabric pot to avoid this.
Growing: When your seedlings reach a height of 4 inches, apply mulch to conserve moisture and control weeds, and keep plants moist during dry weather. In cooler climates, it may be necessary to apply black plastic or provide row covers so that your Roselle get the adequate heat that they require to thrive. They prefer well draining soil, but needs lots of water to grow. Use fertilizer low in nitrogen, or you'll get more leaves than calixes. These plants get pretty tall, and may require staking. Make sure you don't plant them where they'll block plants that enjoy a lot of sun. They do, however, make amazing windbreaks, since they are such sturdy plants. Companion plant roselle with peppers to shield them from the wind, because peppers are much more fragile. In turn, peppers repel cabbage worms from them. Basil, amaranths, mints, melons, cucumbers, and eggplants also make for great companion plants.
Harvesting: Roselle is best harvested when the calixes are still tender, around 8-10 days after forming. When saving seeds from roselle, allow the pods to fully mature, and cut them off after they start to dry; if they begin to split, cut them immediately to prevent seed loss. (I like to tie mesh bags around mine to prevent this). Twisting the pods or putting them in a bag and applying pressure should remove the seed. Spread the seed out to dry for a week, then store in a cool dry place for up to 2-3 years.