Rosella Bush

Hibiscus Sabdariffa

This native hibiscus is one of Australia’s best-known and sought-after bush tuckers, predominantly for jam and tea making. 

Featuring deeply-lobed long leaves atop reddish stems highlighted by hibiscus-like creamy white to pale yellow blooms with spectacularly large red centres, the Rosella also produces deep-red to crimson fruits with multiple culinary uses.

Hibiscus sabdariffa is originally native to tropical West Africa, India and Malaysia but has long since been naturalised in many other tropical and subtropical countries, including Australia, largely in the tropical north. 

Part of the Malvaceae family of plants, this species prefers warmer climates. In cooler, more southern regions, container growing for overwintering is recommended. 

Growth is considered rapid in good conditions where the plant will usually reach up to 2.5 metres tall and wide in cultivation, all within only about 6 months.

A rosella bush will produce deep red, edible calyxes soon after flowering that can be used as additions to many dishes and drinks. These calyxes have a pleasant tart-sweet flavour profile, ideal for those who enjoy using harvested fruits in the kitchen.

Traditionally, these fruits were also used as a bush medicine (as a diuretic and mild laxative) while the leaves became a spicier version of spinach. 

The petals, leaves and flower calyces are all considered edible and delicious. However, given their known medicinal qualities, it is advisable to test a small quantity of the part you plan to consume and monitor for reactions. 

About a month after flowering, the large fleshy red calyces should be ready for harvesting. Leave damaged or mouldy fruits on the bushes. The first harvest is often light but the yield usually increases after the second flowering in autumn. 

  • Simply snip the plumpest and healthiest calyxes straight off the bush.
  • The flowers can be harvested when the petals start wilting and falling off the plant, leaving behind deep red-coloured calyxes.
  • Remove the large round seed pods at the centre then cut flowers at their bases using a pair of sharpened secateurs.
  • Push the pod through the petals with your finger. 
  • Seedpods should be kept if you’re making jam as they contain pectin. Otherwise, they can be discarded. 
  • Rinse flowers and fruits before cooking and allow them to dry a little on a towel or piece of paper towel.
  • Remember to leave some fruits on the plant to dry out so you can collect the seeds for the next season.

Benefits of Rosella as a Bush Tucker

  • Rosella is very high in vitamin C, reportedly 9 x stronger than orange.
  • easy-to-grow and fast-growing fruiting bush.
  • a very hardy plant that is pest resistant.
  • fruits a good source of natural protein.
  • both fruits and flowers can help to reduce blood pressure.
  • The dried, cranberry-tasting calyces (fruits) can be steeped in water to make a popular infusion called Carcade or Hibiscus Tea prepared by boiling fresh, frozen or dried fruits for 10 to 15 minutes or until the water turns red. Add sugar to taste, and serve chilled.
  • The infused tea is a popular addition to rum.
  • The tasty, fleshy fruits go well in salads, jams, jellies, red sauces, cordials, syrups and even baked goods like muffins and cakes.
  • Young leaves can be steamed or stir-fried, and are often known as red sorrel. 
  • Rosella  jam has been made since colonial times and offers a similar flavour to plum jam but is a little more acidic. Jams are made from the interior buds of the flowers with some sugar. 
  • Flowers and fruits can be added as a flavouring and decorative additive to cocktails, white wine and champagne.

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Here are a few recipes to help you get started:

Useful links to further information

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