hibiscus calyxes

Hibiscus: A Tasty Addition to Your Edible Landscape or Garden

Many people have heard of a hibiscus plant and can even identify a hibiscus flower. After all, the plants are quite common in traditional landscapes where they’re beloved for their large, beautiful flowers that bloom throughout the summer.

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.

A handful of hibiscus calyxes.

A handful of hibiscus calyxes.

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.

Hibiscus tea with muddled ginger and kaffir lime leaves with stevia for sweetener.

Hibiscus tea with muddled ginger & kaffir lime leaves with stevia for sweetener.

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.

A Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) flower blooming at Tyrant Farms. Also notice the other older blooms turning into ripe calyxes above and to the left of the flower and the nearly ripe calyx above and to the right of the flower.

A Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) flower blooming at Tyrant Farms. Also notice the other older blooms turning into ripe calyxes below and to the left of the flower, and the nearly ripe calyx directly to the left of the flower.

 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.

Hibiscus calyx (left) separated from the interior seed pod.

Hibiscus calyx (left) separated from the interior seed pod.

 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.

Hibiscus calyxes drying on a dehydrator rack at TF.

Hibiscus calyxes drying on a dehydrator rack at Tyrant Farms.

 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.

Hibiscus seeds being separated from the seed pods.

Hibiscus seeds being separated from the seed pods.

If you’d like to grow some edible Hibiscus next summer, be the first person to leave a comment below and we’ll send you some of our seeds!

Know It or Grow It!

Aaron & Susan

Did you enjoy learning about some of the other uses of hibiscus plants? If so, please share this post with your friends. Also, be sure to subscribe to Farm Bytes so you can get other stories (not all sad/humor), helpful gardening tips, and recipes delivered fresh to your inbox from Tyrant Farms. Thank you!

17 Comments

  1. ajgroe says:

    Love edible floras! I spent the summer dreaming of growing edible hibiscus, but that wasn’t on our to do list this year. This will give me the opportunity to do so next year!

    • Susan says:

      AJ: We just emailed you at your gmail account so let us know your address and we’ll get some seeds in the mail to you. We’re glad this will push you over the edge. Next summer, make sure to get them planted in a warm, well-draining spot with rich soil, and you should have get all the hibiscus calyxes you can handle. They’re a great and unusuak treat!

  2. The picture itself looks scrumptious.You two are so creative in your gardening. You make it so fun. I will have to try some next year. I would love to get a couple of seeds of that and the Cape gooseberry (isn’t that the one you raved about?). I ordered a couple of Goji berry plants I can’t wait to get them going.

    • Susan says:

      @Patricia: You know it! Want us to drop some in the mail or do you think you’ll be able to swing by in the next few weeks before the summer growing season officially ends? And thanks for the nice compliments!

  3. Kanit Jacobs says:

    that’s great information. I’ve tried hibiscus tea once, it was delicious.

  4. Reid giacomarra says:

    Love hibiscus. Good for mild hypertension. Live in n.j. & have 2 other varieties that are tasty but don’t make that beautiful ruby tart tea.thanks for the interesting information.

    • Aaron says:

      Thanks Reid! Glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, there are also a number of interesting medical benefits that can be enjoyed from drinking tea hibiscus as well.

  5. I hope to drop by in the next few weeks. You are definitely out of my stomping grounds, but I do come to Gville now on tue evenings for something. Maybe one Tue I can come early and drop by. Also I really want to get to one of those Permaculture meetings.

  6. Very interesting, I am always looking for ideas that stretch me as a gardener. Thank you.

    • Susan says:

      Thanks Charlie! The variety of plants to choose from in a garden is staggering. Each new season offers a chance to try something new (although it’s always nice to have a bunch of staple perennial plants).

  7. Paulette says:

    I was given a a handful of hibiscus calyxes today at the farmers markets. I’m so glad I found your blog! I wasn’t given enough to make jelly, but I now know I can use them in place of cranberries (fresh) and for tea (dried). Thanks so much!
    And to think I grew up with hibiscus in the yard and never knew about the tart calyx.

    • Susan says:

      Thank you and same here, Paulette! We both grew up with hibiscuses and never had any idea about their edible properties until we became obsessed with gardening a few years ago. Now, we love them for their food, not just their beauty, and have to grow them every year.

  8. Aaron says:

    Senait: Please send us an email with your address to aaron@tyrantfarms.com. I’d be happy to send some seeds to you.

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