Whilst not exclusively native to Australia, our rosella has developed a personality to make it our own. It has stunning red flowers that produce a sweet and tart flavour that goes well in just about anything. They are also really high in vitamin C.
Wild Rosella (Hibiscus sabdariffa), is an introduced species that thrives in tropical and sub tropical areas of Australia from Cairns in the east through to Broome in the west and down as far as Coffs Coast in NSW.
The calyx, stems, leaves and flower petals and seeds are all edible, but it is the calyx that is the most useful – the exquisite magenta colour and claw-like shape make it a visually stunning fruit. The petals can be used for making jellies and dessert garnishes. They have a tart flavour with a raspberry/rhubarb/plum quality. The young fresh leaves are great in a mixed salad, as are the chopped fruit (calyx).
◎ Common Name: Rosella, Roselle, Jamaican Tea, Maple-Leaf Hibiscus, Florida Cranberry, October Hibiscus, Red Sorrel
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Hibiscus sabdariffa
◎ Comparison: Cranberry
◎ Seasonality: All year frozen
◎ Region: Widely Grown
◎ Taste Profile: Rosellas have a crisp tart berry and rhubarb taste. They combine with sugar to produce a delicate light flavour.
◎ Types: There are over 100 varieties of Hibiscus sabdarifla throughout the world. Not all varieties have red calyxes and not all calyxes are fleshy.
- Rosella has extremely high levels of flavonoids and antioxidants such as Vitamin C and anthocyanins, which help protect cells against the damaging effects of free radicals.
- A greater anthocyanin intake is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, improved liver function, increased metabolic function, reduced risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, better weight maintenance, improved cognitive function, improved immunity, improved eye vision and eye health as well as improved skin and hair health.
- Rosella is high in minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and iron.
- Rosella is also a great source of protein, an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.
Aboriginal & Traditional
Common throughout parts of Queensland and northern Australia, Rosella is thought to have originated in Sri Lanka, introduced to Australia by Indonesian fisherman. Nonetheless, they were utilised by Indigenous Australians for generations as a form of nourishment and medicine, given their high antioxidant properties. Traditionally, the fibre from the bark was used to make dilli bags, twine and hunting nets.
Having grown here for thousands of years, it has developed characteristics that make it uniquely Australian — despite all being the same species, our variety differs to the Hibiscus sabdariffa of New Guinea, Indonesia and China.
Western & Modern
Rosellas are endlessly versatile – you can use them in desserts, soups, chutneys, and a savoury sauce that looks as good as it tastes! These fruits make a wonderfully rich yet refreshing jam – excellent at morning tea. A real favourite with everyone who’s ever tried it!
They have a pleasant tart-sweet flavour that goes well in salads, jellies, red sauces, jams, cordials, syrups, fruit teas and wine. They are a fabulous accompaniment for lamb, pork and game. Use it in sauces, jams, ice cream and pastries.
They are often found in shops, preserved whole in syrup or liquid, as a decorative and flavouring additive for cocktails, white wine or champagne. The seeds may be roasted and ground into flour. The young leaves may be steamed or stir-fried – these are also known as red sorrel.
In India, Africa and Mexico, all above-ground parts of the rosella plant are valued in native medicine. Infusions of the leaves or calyces are regarded as diuretic, cholerectic, febrifugal and hypotensive, decreasing the viscosity of the blood and stimulating intestinal peristalsis. Pharmacognosists in Senegal recommend rosella extract for lowering blood pressure. They are antispasmodic, anthelmintic and antibacterial.
In Guatemala, roselle "ade" is a favourite remedy for the after effects of drunkenness. In East Africa, the calyx infusion, called "Sudan tea", is taken to relieve coughs. Rosella juice, with salt, pepper, asafetida and molasses, is taken as a remedy for biliousness. It is used by the Chinese to treat dandruff and stimulate hair growth, and been used to treat hemorrhoids and wounds.
Recent research has shown that Rosella may have antibacterial properties. It is a mild laxative and contains malic acid. It has also been shown to relax the uterus and reduce blood pressure, and been used for indigestion and loss of appetite, as well as for colds, respiratory problems, and circulation disorders.
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: © Luisa Brimble