Roselle /Jamaica a crop with great potential for gardeners Nov 18, 2016 12:32:16 GMT -6
Post by macmex on Nov 18, 2016 12:32:16 GMT -6
Years ago, when our family first went to Mexico to serve as missionaries, we were introduced to a red, fruity drink called agua de Jamaica (pronounced Ha-Mike-ah). Within a short time of our arrival in the country I came down with a terrible kidney stone attack (ALL kidney stone attacks are terrible!), which lasted a month. During that time I was in and out of several hospitals, saw a number of doctors and, ultimately, was sent back to the USA for treatment. But before crossing back into Texas I believe I drank MANY gallons of this drink. Everyone I ran into in Mexico, from doctors and nurses, to little Mexican grandmothers recommended it for my problem! It was probably ten years before I actually sought out one of these drinks on my own. I had “overdosed” on Jamaica!
In the United States and most of the English speaking world Jamaica is known as roselle. Unfortunately, I rarely meet anyone who knows about roselle. Another name I’ve heard is “Florida cranberry.” This makes sense in that while it’s not a berry, the drink looks and tastes a lot like cranberry juice.
Now, a good many years down the road, we live in Oklahoma, which is a wonderful place. But fruit production, here, is a real challenge due to our erratic weather. Whereas, in the Northeastern US, apples, pears, peaches and plums volunteer and even produce in hedgerows, here, they rarely volunteer and pretty much never produce without intervention! To get my apple trees to fruit, I have to apply compost every year. Then, when they do fruit, the squirrels steal the the fruit! Peaches average a successful crop about one out of five years, due to the erratic warming in the spring and late frosts. And… squirrels love peaches! Blueberries need need life support to make it through our heat and drought. I could go on and on!
This year, however, I thought to to try roselle. I had read that it did well along the Texas/Oklahoma border. I purchased seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (http://www.southernexposure.com/roselle-thai-red-06-g-p-181.html) and started it just like I start tomatoes, about five weeks before the average last frost, transplanting the seedlings into the garden when I did my tomatoes.
For a week or two I wasn’t sure that the little plants would make it. In fact, a couple did die. I don’t remember what killed them, whether it was an accident or a pest. The surviving three plants started to grow. The plants were relatively nondescript for much of the summer. There were no flowers until sometime in July. Interestingly, of the three plants, only one flowered in July. The other two waited until sometime in August. Eventually they were all flowering and setting seed. I ignored them. In October I started taking pictures. They were loading up with calyxes. In early November, when the plants were slightly over 3 1/2’ tall and about as big around, I picked the calyxes. A calyx is part of the flower, but not what we generally think of as part of the flower. A calyx consists of sepals, which are the outer part (generally not the showy part) of a flower.
Roselle flowers look like okra flowers. Roselle is a hibiscus, as is okra. They’re relatives. The flowers are pretty enough. But the calyxes are red and attractive in and of themselves. Whereas the flower only lasts for part of a day, the calyx remains on the plant until picked.
When harvesting Jamaica one picks the calyxes. When making the drink or processing the calyxes, one peels the calyx off of the actual seed pod. The calyx can then be steeped in hot water or it can be dried for future use.
My three roselle plants produced about 15 gallons of calyxes! I reckon we could easily use four or five times this amount. With roselle calyxes (dry or fresh) one can make a fabulous drink or jelly. In Germany, where they are particularly strict on artificial coloring in foods, roselle is important as a source of natural red food coloring. The sweetened tea, drunk cold, is nearly indistinguishable from cranberry juice. In much of the English speaking world it is best known as the main ingredient of Red Zinger Tea. The leaves have a lemony “sorrel flavor.” In fact, in some parts of the English speaking world, roselle is called “sorrel.” (https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/roselle.html) They can be eaten in mixed salads or used in cooking to add a lemony flavor to a dish.
In Latin America the drink is considered to help with weight loss. It’s also considered helpful in reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol. The drink is supposed to help with indigestion. (http://cafeyte.about.com/od/Tisanas-Y-T-E-De-Hierbas/a/Agua-De-Jamaica-Bebida-Adelgazante-Y-Digestiva.htm) In another article I read: “Nutritionists have found roselle calyxes as sold in Central American markets to be high in calcium, niacin, riboflavin and iron.” (https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/roselle.html) I’ve heard that it’s high in vitamin C. How ever you look at this plant, it’s good for you. But let’s be clear, I wouldn’t recommend going on a Jamaica binge. If it can help your physical condition, then overuse might hurt it.
I am excited about roselle! This is a plant which thrives on heat. It’s low maintenance. It’s productive. And, it produces lots of a crop which is not only good for you, but it also fills a need which is generally a challenge to meet in my neck of the woods. Roselle’s calyx can actually help meet some of our need and desire for fruit! And,… it can be grown as an annual!
I don’t know just how far North it can be grown for the calyxes, as, aside from being a heat lover, it is day length sensitive. But think of this: New Jersey is on the same latitude as my location in Oklahoma. So, there is a chance that this plant might be worth growing that far North. Also, though I still need to experiment with the leaves, I have read that the plant was once rather widely grown in parts of the Midwest, for nothing more.
Many people, these days, are very interested in a healthy diet. Combine this interest with the fact that roselle is easy to grow, highly productive and delicious; and I believe this plant deserves much more attention! I could foresee Jamaica being sold in farmers’ markets and grocery stores in much of our country, but especially in states with hot summers.