false roselle | cranberry hibiscus

False Roselle aka Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella) is one of my favorite plants in our food forest garden.

The beautiful leaves, flowers, and calyx are edible, it is fast-growing, super easy to propagate from cuttings or seeds, and is a great supporter of pollinators and wildlife in the garden.

cranberry hibiscus flower

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

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 open and drop seeds to the ground.

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

The seeds will lay dormant until they sprout in the spring.

False roselle seedlings – self-seeded in the yard

How to eat Cranberry Hibiscus (aka false roselle)

The calyx is the part that holds the seed pod and is usually what people boil to make tea.

The sepals are my favorite. These finger-like leaves hold the most cranberry flavor and we eat them right off the plant.

Sepals. My favorite part to eat on the Cranberry Hibiscus

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.

Bugs on Cranberry Hibiscus

As with most hibiscus, aphids are a common pest found on cranberry hibiscus. Although they can suck the life out of your hibiscus flowers, they will also attract beneficial and predatory insects who will defend your garden from pests.

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 eat a massive amount of aphids, whitefly and scale.

ladybug larvae eating pests on Cranberry Hibiscus

And these awesome looking eggs on threads are lacewing eggs, even more voracious eaters of aphids.

Lacewing eggs on cranberry hibiscus

Common pests on Cranberry Hibiscus

I don’t use any pesticides or chemicals in my garden. Instead, I walk the yard regularly and address pests and damage before it has a chance to become a problem. If I come across any pests, I either blast them with the hose or feed them to our fish. Eventually, nature takes it’s course and the ladybugs and lacewings will move in.

Aphids: Super common pest on hibiscus and are usually accompanied by ants that eat their sugary excrement (known as honeydew). If I see a lot of aphids I’ll hit them with the hose or simply remove the most infested leaves.

White Flies: To remove whiteflies, I spray the leaves with the hose a few times a week. Eventually, the mating cycle will be disrupted and they will disappear.

Thrips: These pests lay their eggs inside the flower buds on hibiscus and feed on the developing flowers. They cause the buds to fall off, then they spend the next part of their lifecycle in the soil, until they grow wings. Thrips build up immunity to pesticides and the best defense against them is predators and keeping the ground mulched and clear of weeds and grasses.

Mealy Bugs: Not as common as aphids, but a 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.

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.

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?

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 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.