While hibiscus are valued for their beauty, there is another side to these plants that you should know about: many of them are edible (flowers, leaves, and fruit aka “calyxes”). Some people even say that all hibiscus plants are edible, although given the number of varieties (including new hybrids) that abound, that’s a riskier claim than we’re willing to make.
What we can say for certain is that we’ve enjoyed growing and eating Hibiscus sabdariffa, a particular variety best known for its edibility. It’s a large, fast-growing, sun-loving shrub that is an annual in our temperate climate zone and a perennial in tropical regions. The large green leaves pack a tangy punch and its branches are covered with colorful yellow flowers. While these flowers are a bit smaller than the common Hibiscus varieties used by landscapers, they produce a fruit/seed pod known as a “calyx” that more than makes up for any deficiencies.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the electric pink colored hibiscus tea that’s popular around the globe from the caribbean to Africa to the far east—then you’ve tried a Hibiscus sabdariffa calyx. If you haven’t, unflavored “Hibiscus tea” tastes like cranberries and packs comparable medicinal and nutritional benefits.
We like to sweeten our Hibiscus tea with stevia powder or local honey, then add fresh-muddled ginger and kaffir lime leaves for a spicy citrus finish. Poured over ice, Hibiscus Tea is one of our all-time favorite summer refreshment drinks. We have so many dehydrated Hibiscus calyxes stored after this summer’s growing season, that we’re also planning to try some other experiments like Hibiscus jelly and spiced Hibiscus tea with cinnamon and cloves when the weather turns cold-—yum!
How to Prepare Hibiscus Calyxes
1. Pick the Ripe Calyxes - After a hibiscus flower has bloomed, it will shrivel up and drop off of the calyx about 24-48 hours later. The ripe, red calyx will be closed and have a solid feel when squeezed. We’ve also found that a ripe calyx’s stem will easily snap off of the plant when it’s ready for harvest. This point is usually a couple of days after the hibiscus flower has bloomed, but you can wait longer if you want to make extra sure that it’s ripe.
2. Separate the Calyx From the Seed Pod - Here’s how we remove our calyxes: (a) cut half across the base severing the calyx from the stem, (b) cut a slit down the length of the calyx, (c) using your fingers, pop out the seed pod from the calyx. The goal is to try to keep the calyx as intact as possible, rather than having a bunch of small pieces.
3. Dry the Calyxes - If you want to store the calyxes for later use, dry them in a dehydrator or on a rack. If you don’t want to dry them, you can also immediately make fresh jelly with the calyxes and/or the flowers.
4. Save the Seeds - Regardless of the plant, we’re always completely amazed by home many “babies” they try to make. A hibiscus is no exception. Each of their seed pods are loaded with new seeds that you can save for the next year, share with other people or guerilla garden with. Let the seed pods dry for about a week and they’ll be dry, brittle and easy to crack open, spilling out dozens of small black seeds for future bounties.
We hope you’ll decide to grow some beautiful, edible Hibiscus plants in your garden next summer! Remember, the best variety for edible flowers is Hibiscus sabdariffa.
Aaron & Susan