false roselle | cranberry hibiscus

False Roselle aka Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella) is one of my favorite plants in our garden. The beautiful leaves, flowers, and calyx are edible, it is fast-growing, so it produces a lot of biomass for chop and drop. It’s super easy to propagate from cuttings and seeds, and it is a great supporter of pollinators and wildlife in the garden.

Edible

Edible leaves and flowers: I will occasionally add a few leaves (new growth) into a salad, or on sandwiches, but my favorite is to munch on the sepals.

I also feed the leaves and flowers to our chickens and sulcata tortoise.

Great biomass for chop and drop

Fast-growing plant: When you allow them to go to seed, they will sprout in spring (March/April for us in zone 9b Florida)

Easy to propagate

Easy to propagate by cuttings: As the plants reach 3-5 feet tall, I cut them back and stick the branches into the ground to create new plants.

Supports pollinators and wildlife

As with most hibiscus, aphids are attracted to cranberry hibiscus, which is a great way to start bringing beneficial predatorial insects to your yard, who will stay and defend your garden from pests.

Spring time! New Cranberry Hibiscus sprouts in the yard.

How I grow False Roselle in Florida (zone 9b)

Cranberry hibiscus was one of the first plants I planted in our food forest, and because it is so easy to spread by cuttings and seed, you can find it all over my yard, and I easily have thousands of these plants!

Here in zone 9b, they seem to bud in October, Bloom in November and by Christmas, the seed pods are fully formed. This is when I harvest them. I removed the seed pods, get lots of tiny thorns in my fingers, and boil the calyx.

When the seed pods dry, they release the seeds on the ground, and at this time, the plant starts turning brown and dying back. As they start looking bad, I cut the whole plant to the ground.

During spring, all the seeds it dropped will sprout again, and I believe the plants regrow…will have to double-check this year…

Eating False Roselle (Cranberry Hibiscus)

Eat the leaves, flowers and calyx

Cranberry hibiscus is probably the only leafy plant in my yard that I actually enjoy eating. As with most leafy greens, the new growth is the most flavorful, so make sure to pick the small baby leaves.

You can eat the flowers too, most people use them as a garnish in salads or they can be boiled, strained and then you can consume the juice. I’m not a big fan of the flower flavor or texture.

The flowers are only open for a day, then they start to roll up, and the seed pod will begin to form.

Cranberry hibiscus flower after it bloomed
Ready to harvest for tea! Seedpod is plump.

Cranberry Hibiscus Tea and Juice

I make cranberry hibiscus tea for me, then put it on ice as juice for the kids! We have made it from the flowers but it was not very good, so we just make it from the calyx after the flower blooms, usually ready to harvest in December.

How to make Cranberry Hibiscus tea

When the seed pods are plump and green, use scissors to harvest the entire thing – which consists of the seed pod, which is encased in the spiky calyx.

  1. Painstakingly separate the seed pod from the calyx, and discard the seed pod (or dry the seeds for planting). I don’t wear gloves, but you probably should.
  2. Rinse the calyxes under cool water.
  3. Simmer calyxes for 5 – 10 minutes
  4. Strain. Drink the liquid hot like tea, or put it on ice to make cranberry hibiscus juice.

In Egypt, cranberry hibiscus juice is very popular in a drink they call Karkade – see a video about it here. *She is referring to the roselle (not false roselle), but they can be used the same way.

Even tastier, is the epicalyx, or the finger-like leaves that stick out around the part that holds the bloom and seed pod, and makes that cool star shape. These hold the most flavor. I pick them off and snack on them while walking the garden.

my favorite part to eat on the Cranberry Hibiscus

Candied Hibiscus Flowers: Great in salads or as a popcorn-like snack

  1. Clean and dry your hibiscus flowers, petals or calyx.
  2. Paint a super thin layer of egg white onto each side of the flower petals or blossoms.
  3. Coat with a fine sugar (can sprinkle it on or roll in it)
  4. Place them on a piece of parchment paper.
  5. Place in a dehydrator or Bake at 170 degrees for about 7 hours.
  6. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Hibiscus Syrup: For use in mixed drinks

Mixed drink idea: Mix syrup, water, tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice and serve over ice.

  1. Simmer 2 cups of water with sugar, cinnamon stick, ginger slices and cloves until the sugar is completely dissolved (5 minutes).
  2. Remove from heat, and stir in the hibiscus blossoms.
  3. Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
  4. Strain the dark red syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a glass pitcher.
  5. Stir lime juice and 2 cups water
  6. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Jams, jelly and Dressings

We have enjoyed Hibiscus Jam spread on toast, mixed in yogurt, or on ice cream.

Making Jam:

  1. Rinse flowers in cold water.
  2. Bring flowers and water to a boil; cook for 15 minutes.
  3. Strain the juice with a strainer or with cheesecloth
  4. Add 2 spoonfuls of sugar, whisk and bring to a boil
  5. Add more sugar and boil 3 minutes.
  6. Put the jam in mason jars and screw the lids firmly, then
  7. Invert jars and let cool.

There are many other recipes for making Cranberry Hibiscus jams, jelly, and dressings.

I’ve read about people using cranberry hibiscus leaves for rhubarb pie, the calyxes for jam, and for making chutney. We look forward to making some this year and sharing our results.

Soil and Water Requirements

The cranberry hibiscus plants on my property are growing in super dry soil, as well as in my low-lying, flood-prone field. They definitely grow best in the low-lying areas (moist soil). The leaves seem to be brighter red in full sun and burgundy/dark red when planted in the shade.

I keep all my plants well mulched using the chop and drop method. I stack leaves, twigs, and wood chips in my beds to keep in moisture as it decomposes to provide rich, organic nutrients into the soil.

Height and Spacing

How tall will they get? Ten feet or taller! I keep mine trimmed way back like bushes (and I replant the cuttings). If left to grow out of control, they will become top-heavy and flop over from the weight of their leaves.

Sun Exposure

Full or partial sun is fine here in zone 9. They aren’t picky but in the heat of the summer, make sure they’re watered well.

Bloom Characteristics and Foliage

Cranberry hibiscus flowers are beautiful but only last a day. Here in zone 9, the cranberry hibiscus plant will flower sporadically throughout the fall and the seed pods are usually dried and ready to pick in early to mid-winter.

The self-pollinating flowers have 5 petals, and the deep burgundy leaves are very unique as they look like red maples, and will darken with age.

How to grow False Roselle

If you have access to false roselle, aka cranberry hibiscus plant, the easiest way to propagate it (make more plants) is by cuttings. They also sprout easily from seeds, and you can purchase some here on Amazon.

Growing Cranberry Hibiscus From Cuttings

Cuttings are the easiest way to propagate (make more) cranberry hibiscus plants. I cut a handful of branches 6-12″ in length, remove the last few inches of leaves, poke a hole in the ground and place 3 of the cuttings in the hole.

If you only place one cutting in the hole, it will look pretty skimpy when it grows, so make sure to at least plant 3 together.

I like to plant my cuttings during the rainy, summer months when the heat encourages growth and I don’t have to worry about watering. Otherwise, water the newly planted cuttings every day for the first week until established.

Harvesting Cranberry Hibiscus Seeds

To collect seeds from a cranberry hibiscus, it is best to wait until the seed pod dries. In the image below, you will see that I waited too long to harvest seeds from this plant, as the seed pods have already dried, cracked open, and dropped the seeds to the ground.

When left to dry on the plant, the seed pods will open and release 10+ seeds which will sprout in the spring.

I prefer to collect the dry pods by cutting them off the plant with sharp scissors and allowing them to fall into a paper bag. To avoid handling the spiky little seed pods, I leave them in the paper bag until they open and release seeds on their own. Then, I sift it through a strainer and pick out the seeds by hand. It’s a tedious process, but people always ask for seeds, so I like to sell them in our eBay store.

As the seed pod dries, it cracks open and releases its seeds – so make sure you harvest it before it begins to crack open and they fall to the ground and will sprout again in the spring. We usually see them starting to pop up around March/April.

False roselle seedlings – self-seeded in the yard

If you don’t already have cranberry hibiscus, you can check out our eBay store to see if we have any in stock.

The edible flowers on the False Roselle are only open for a day, then it dies back and falls off. A few days later, you will see a seed pod beginning to form.

The part encasing the seed pod is what holds the most flavor. This is the part you want to boil to make tea. If you open the seed pod when it is still green, it will contain white seeds (shown below) which can be left in the sun to dry.

False Roselle will self-seed

I prefer to leave the pods on the plant and allow them to dry out. The pods will turn brown and crunch. If you leave them too long, the pod will crack open, and drop the seeds in the yard where they will sprout again in the spring.

Cranberry Hibiscus Pests

If you pay attention to your garden and catch pests before they lay hundreds of eggs, you will be able to keep them under control.

ladybug eggs on cranberry hibiscus (good thing!)

Learn to identify your garden bugs. Some bugs eat pests, and you don’t want to kill them. It’s best to pick off the “bad” bugs, eggs, and cocoons by hand. We love finding bugs so we can feed them to our fish.

We also use this sticky paste and pads to catch bugs without chemicals. These are nice so you can see what bugs are lurking in your garden. Master Gardeners usually meet at local libraries a few times a month, you can bring them your sticky pad full of bugs and ask them to help you identify them for you.

Alternatives to Pesticide

ladybug larvae eating pests on cranberry hibiscus

White Flies: To remove whiteflies, spray the leaves with your hose on jet stream a few times a day. Eventually, you will disrupt the mating cycle and they will disappear.

Thrips: These pests feed on developing flowers or vegetables and hide in crevices of leaves. They build up immunity to pesticides and the best defense against them is predators and keeping the ground mulched and clear of weeds and grasses where they also feed.

Mealy Bugs: Another hard pest to get rid of. I simply remove them and put them in our fish tank, but you can wipe them off with a cotton ball and alcohol.

Aphids: You will know you have aphids when you see ants. The ants eat the honey-like sap (known as honeydew) that the aphids leave behind. Ants are great predators to have in the garden, so this is a kind of a Catch-22. As long as the aphids aren’t on my edibles, I usually leave them alone.

Japanese beetle, Sri Lanka weevil.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between roselle and false roselle?

Both roselle and false roselle are edible. I tried growing roselle once, but the plant didn’t make it and I haven’t come across another one, yet! I only have experience growing false roselle, but I have heard that the roselle calyx are bigger, making it less maintenance to harvest for making tea, juice or syrup.

Where can I buy Cranberry Hibiscus Seeds?
You can purchase them on Amazon here. The seeds are very tedious to extract from the seed pod, but I’m going to do it this year and try to sell them.

What is the best way to propagate (grow more) Cranberry Hibiscus?
False roselle is easy to grow from cuttings or seeds. Cut several 3″-6″ pieces off the plant, remove the last few leaves and stick 3-4 cuttings into the same hole. (If you only grow one cutting, it will look very scraggly). Keep the cutting watered. It will droop for a few days, then perk up and continue to grow.

For seeds, wait for a flower to die (they only last 1-2 days) and fall off. The remaining calyx will dry and turn brown. Carefully separate it (the spikes will stick in your fingers) and remove the dark black seeds.

Although I am in zone 9b, my red hibiscus tends to die in the winter if we get a few nights of freezing temperatures, but, every year it comes back from the seeds that dropped.

Can you eat Cranberry Hibiscus?
Yes! The leaves are edible (eat the smaller new leaves, they taste better than the bigger leaves) and can be eaten raw or cooked in small quantities. Use the leaves as an addition to a salad, as a salad full of false roselle leaves will be overbearing. You can also make a tea or juice from the old flower blooms.