Hibiscus tea, hibiscus jelly, hibiscus relish… yes, hibiscus plants don’t just make beautiful flowers, they can also make wonderful edible plants! In this article, you’ll learn more how to ID and use edible hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa).
Many people have heard of hibiscus plants and can even identify a hibiscus flower. After all, the plants are quite common in traditional landscapes where they’re beloved for their large, showy flowers that bloom throughout the summer – or longer in warmer climate zones.
While hibiscus plants 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 of hibiscus best known for its edibility. Hibiscus sabdariffa is a large, fast-growing, sun-loving shrub that is an annual in our temperate climate zone but perennial in tropical regions.
As you might be able to tell from the flower structure (see above), hibiscus is in the Mallow family, and closely related to okra and cotton.
It’s interesting to note that marshmallows (the confection) used to be made from marshmallows (a Mallow plant closely related to hibiscus) back before the advent of corn starch and high fructose corn syrup.
What part of a hibiscus plant is edible?
All parts of Hibiscus sabdariffa are edible: calyxes, leaves, and flowers.
- The calyxes are the ingredient used to make Hibiscus tea, a tangy Vitamin C-rich delight. They’re also used to make sauces, jams, and other treats.
- The large green leaves pack a tangy punch and can also be used to make tea.
- The branches are covered with colorful yellow flowers. Once pollinated and mature, the flowers form ripe calyxes, with a seed pod inside. While these flowers are a bit smaller than the common Hibiscus varieties used by landscapers, the fact that they form a delightful edible fruit/calyx more than makes up for their size deficiency relative to hibiscus varieties bred purely for show.
Edible Hibiscus Tea
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 and you’re just wondering how it tastes, unflavored “Hibiscus tea” tastes like lemon-cranberries and packs comparable medicinal and nutritional benefits. Yes, among other things, that means it contains loads of Vitamin C.
We like to sweeten our Hibiscus tea with stevia powder or local honey, then add fresh-muddled ginger and makrut 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 Harvest Edible Hibiscus Calyxes For Food, Beverages, and Seed-Saving
1. Pick the Ripe Calyxes.
After a hibiscus flower has bloomed, it will shrivel up and drop from the plant about 24-48 hours later. Then the calyx will begin to form.
How do you know when to harvest the calyx? This is somewhat subjective, but we usually give them anywhere from 3-7 days after the flower has dropped.
When ripe, the calyxes will not easily snap off of the plant by hand. Instead, you’ll need to use clippers or snips to cut them off. However, you can pick them when they’re smaller and easily removed from the plant by hand, or leave them to mature even longer than recommended above — especially if you want to save seeds to grow in future seasons.
2. Separate the Calyx From the Seed Pod.
Here’s how we remove our calyxes:
- cut half across the base severing the calyx from the stem,
- cut a slit down the length of the calyx,
- 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. Immediately Use or Dry the Calyxes.
If you plan to use the calyxes within 24-48 hours for tea, sauce, or fresh jelly, you can just leave them on your counter. However, the calyxes do start to lose moisture and texture the longer you let them sit, and they may even start to mold if you’ve had a lot of rain prior to harvest.
Hibiscus tea tip: Even after the calyxes are removed from your tea glass, they’re still edible and quite yummy. In fact, as one of our Instagram followers from Nigeria told us, they can be used to make a great relish at this stage, similar to fresh cranberry relish.
If you want to save the calyxes for later use, dry them (with seed pod removed) in a dehydrator or on a rack. We LOVE our Excalibur dehydrator for drying edible hibiscus and other garden delights that we grow throughout the year.
4. Save the Seeds.
We’re always amazed by how productive our Hibiscus sabdariffa plants are.
Each year, we leave several of the largest calyxes on a few of our plants so we can grow seeds for future years. The longer you leave them on the plant, the better for seed production and seed viability.
Once you harvest a Hibiscus sabdariffa calyx/seed pod for the express purpose of seed-saving, be sure to let the seed pods dry for a month inside before storing them in a ziplock or any container that would trap moisture and reduce their viability.
The seed pods should be dry, brittle and easy to crack open, spilling out dozens of small black seeds for future bounties.
Remember, even though all varieties of hibiscus may be edible, the best variety of hibiscus for edible flowers, leaves, and calyxes is Hibiscus sabdariffa.
Where to buy Certified Organic Hibiscus Tea Seeds or Hibiscus Tea.
- Certified Organic Hibiscus Seeds (1 g) – $3.50 + s&h – Amazon link
- Certified Organic Cut Hibiscus Roselle for Tea (1 lb) – $13.89 (Prime Eligible) – Amazon link
- Certified Organic Hibiscus Powder – $7.95 (spice jar) – $22.95 (1 lb) – Banyan Botanicals
We hope you’ll decide to grow some beautiful, edible Hibiscus plants in your garden next summer!