false roselle | cranberry hibiscus

Today we’re talking about the False Roselle aka Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella). This beautiful, low-maintenance and useful plant is one of my favorite plants in our Florida food forest garden. It’s a great pollinator plant, heat tolerant, fast growing for chop & drop, and the edible leaves and calyces can be used for teas, juices, and in salads.

It’s spreads easily by cuttings and will self-seed for years if you let it, making this plant a great addition to any sustainable garden! Hardy in USDA zones 9-11 (down to 25°F / -4°C), or as an annual in cooler climates.

The beautiful edible flowers are only open for a day, then they start to roll up.

cranberry hibiscus flower
Cranberry hibiscus flower after it bloomed

The flower will dry up and fall off to reveal a growing seed pod. If you open the seed pod when it is still green, it will contain white seeds which can be left in the sun to dry, but I prefer to let them dry on the plant.

Seed pod growing from Cranberry Hibiscus flower

As the seed pod dries, it will slowly crack open and drop about 10-20 seeds to the ground per pod.

Each dried seed pod will open and release 10+ seeds.

Here is zone 9b, the seeds will lay dormant until they sprout in the spring.

False roselle seedlings – self-seeded in the yard

How to grow Cranberry Hibiscus (False Roselle)

Soil and Water Requirements

Once established, cranberry hibiscus grows well in a wide variety of soil types. They grow in my low-lying, flood-prone areas as well as sandy, dry spots.

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. The leaves seem to be brighter red in full sun and burgundy/dark red when planted in the shade.

Growing Cranberry Hibiscus From Cuttings

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. 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.

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.

Benefits of growing cranberry hibiscus

  • Fast growing biomass for chop and drop
  • Edible
  • Attractive ornamental plant with deep red/purple leaves and bright pink flowers
  • Drought tolerant and can handle a range of soil types
  • Medicinal properties – the leaves can be used to make a tea that is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Can be used as a natural dye for fabrics and other materials
  • Can attract pollinators to your garden, such as bees and butterflies.
  • Easy to propagate by cuttings or seeds, so once it’s established, you’ll be able to grow cranberry hibiscus for many years to come.

Common insects on Cranberry Hibiscus

Insects are a natural part of the ecosystem and will always be present on plants. Being able to identify them can help you determine which ones are beneficial and which ones may be harmful. Beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, help control pest populations by eating harmful insects. Harmful insects, such as aphids and spider mites, can damage or kill plants if left unchecked.

It’s very important to consistently walk your garden so you can protect your plants by simply removing the harmful insects by hand before they get out of control.

Common pests:

  • Aphids
  • Whiteflies
  • Spider mites
  • Thrips
  • Caterpillars
  • Leafminers


  • Ladybugs
  • Lacewings
  • Assassin bugs
  • Praying mantis
  • Spiders

Beneficial insects:

  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Hoverflies
  • Syrphid flies
  • Parasitic wasps
  • Tachinid flies

It’s extremely important to identify insects and eggs before you remove them. For example, we found these orange eggs on our cranberry hibiscus.

ladybug eggs on cranberry hibiscus (a good thing!)

Luckily we knew better and didn’t destroy them. They are ladybug eggs that hatch into hungry ladybug larvae that will use their sharp mandibles to pierce and slowly suck the juices of soft-bodied insects like aphids, whitefly, mites, thrips and scale.

ladybug larvae eating pests on Cranberry Hibiscus

And these awesome looking eggs on threads are lacewing eggs, a faster, more aggressive predator with super strong mandibles that allow them to consume their prey very quickly. They too will rid your garden of lots of pests in their lifetime.

Lacewing eggs on cranberry hibiscus

How to get rid of insects on cranberry hibiscus (false roselle)

It’s important to note that insects prefer eating plants that are suffering from health issues, so keep your plants and soil healthy and they will be less susceptible to insect infestations. The few insects in the garden will ideally be kept in check by natural predators but it’s also important to walk around and observe your yard regularly to address any pests and damage, before it becomes an infestation.

Larger pests can be picked off by hand. We feed them to the chickens or throw them in the pond for the fish. Smaller pests are best handled by discarding the entire leaf or branch they are infesting, blast them with the hose or use sticky traps.

  • Aphids: Hibiscus plants are known to be a favorite food source for these small, soft-bodied insects that feed on the sap of plants, causing leaves to wilt and yellow. Ants eat the sugary excrement (known as honeydew) that the aphids leave behind. It’s such a valuable food source that the ants will protect and care for the aphids. If I see a lot of aphids I’ll simply remove and discard the most infested leaves, or just hit them with the hose.
  • White Flies: Like aphids, these small, flying insects feed on the sap of plants, which can cause wilting, yellowing, and stunted growth. They also excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which can attract ants and mold. If the infestation is too bad to remove by hand or with a hose, sticky traps are a great option, just remember to replace them as they fill up.
  • Thrips: These tiny, quickly reproducing insects spread to other plants where they can transmit plant viruses and feed on plant sap which eventually causes stunted growth, discoloration, and damage to the leaves, flowers, buds and fruits. Thrips are resistant to many insecticides and hide in plant crevices and folds, so sticky traps work best if you need additional controls.
  • Mealy Bugs: Hibiscus plants are a favorite food source for mealy bugs. Thought not as common as aphids, they are a hard pest to get rid of because they are covered in a protective coating of white, powdery wax that helps protect them from predators and environmental factors. Mealy bugs tend to congregate in areas where there is a lot of moisture, so check the undersides of leaves, in the crevices where leaves meet stems and near the base of the plant. Remove them with a soft-bristled brush or a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol every few days until all the bugs are gone.

How to eat Cranberry Hibiscus (False Roselle)

Cranberry Hibiscus is a fun and exciting way to add some variety to your diet! Not only is its deep red color visually appealing, but it’s tangy and slightly sour taste can add a unique flavor to your dishes.

Here are some ideas on how to eat Cranberry Hibiscus:

  • Harvest the leaves and flowers for a pop of color and a tart, lemon/cranberry flavored salad. Make sure you harvest the young tender leaves for best texture and flavor.
  • Sauté the leaves with garlic and olive oil or adding them to soups and stews.
  • Make a delicious, tart tea using the flowers and/or calyx. Simply steep the flowers in hot water for a few minutes and enjoy, or dry them and use like dried tea leaves.
  • Use the leaves and flowers to make a refreshing juice or smoothie by blending them with some water, ice, and your favorite fruits.
  • Use some Cranberry Hibiscus leaves as a garnish to your dinners, cocktails or mocktails for a fancy and flavorful touch.
Cranberry Hibiscus sepals are fun to snack on in the yard.

Cranberry Hibiscus Tea and Juice

I make cranberry hibiscus tea for myself, then put it on ice as juice for the kids! We 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.

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 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 for 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between roselle and false roselle?

Roselle and false roselle are two different plants that are often confused with each other due to their similar appearance. Roselle, also known as Hibiscus sabdariffa is a member of the mallow family and is widely cultivated for its bright red, fleshy, edible calyx, which is used to make a popular drink known as hibiscus tea.

False roselle, on the other hand, is grown primarily for its strikingly beautiful and edible deep red or purple tart flavored leaves.

In summary, the main difference between roselle and false roselle is that roselle is grown for its edible calyx, while false roselle is grown for its ornamental leaves.

Where can I buy Cranberry Hibiscus False Roselle 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.