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A Love Affair with Roselle

Farmers like roselle because it's easy to grow, requires little care in a tropical climate, and easy to propagate from seed or cuttings. (shutterstock)

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is a plant of many uses; culinary and nonculinary. A creative person can use many different parts of the plant; its flower, calyx, leaves and stems.  

I use the flowers of Roselle in salads and as a garnish for different dishes. The tender leaves, used in salads, provide a taste similar to spicy spinach contrasted with a flavorful, fruity sourness. The stems can provide a “bast fiber,” similar to jute used for burlap.  Most people know the “fruit” of Hibiscus sabdariffa which are really the swollen, red calyces that hold the petals of its flowers together.

I have used Roselle in making jams and jellies which friends and visitors adore. To those into home fruit preservation, it is a perfect candidate for making a firm jelly because it contains a high amount of pectin. My kids love pancakes so what better way to use Roselle on the farm than to make beautiful red Roselle syrup! You can also make a Roselle sauce, reminiscent of cranberries, a flavorful complement to many different meats and fish. The sweet and tangy taste of Roselle juice is always a hit with visitors during our agritourism events. To preserve it for later use, I pickle and can Roselle in my farm’s product development kitchen. My friends in the culinary community use Roselle in making soups and a variety of different sauces giving their food presentation a beautiful red, magenta color and distinctive flavor.

Peter Johnson Wester of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) brought three edible cultivars of Roselle to the Philippines in 1905. The farmers liked it because it was so easy to grow, requiring little care in a tropical climate and easy to propagate from seed or cuttings. Its popularity grew in some provincial markets but never to the level in some other countries with a similar climate. With the growing popularity of farmer markets and Farm to Fork events, it is the hope of Filipino family farmers that Roselle will gain wider acceptance in homes and the culinary community.  

My love affair with Roselle continues and I’m experimenting further on the pleasures that Roselle can give to my palette. One day, I accidentally left my farm-made bottle of Roselle juice unrefrigerated. When I opened it, the beautiful fermented Roselle scent filled my nostrils. Here is a recipe of a simple yet soothing Roselle tea drink you can make in your kitchen.

Spell of Roselle Tea

Ingredients:

2 tablespoon of sundried Hibiscus Sabdariffa

2 tablespoon of honey

Some mint leaves

Procedure:

Crumble mint leaves and mix together with the sundried Roselle in a teapot with strainer. Pour two cups of hot water and stir in the honey. Let it steep for few minutes until the sundried Roselle rehydrates and release its flavor and beautiful red color. Serve hot.

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Gigi Morris is a Las Vegas-based fashion design and apparel professional. The Pontejos-Morris family moved back to the Philippines and Gigi made a personal segue into farming while her husband was teaching agricultural production internationally. Gigi devoted her time to raising their two boys while, at the same time, she developed MOCA Farm, an ecologically –friendly, organic family farm in Batangas. Despite the Filipino cultural opposition toward eating rabbit meat, she popularized sustainable rabbit production as a healthy alternative food choice for Filipinos and, with the help of her two boys, marketed the concept (along with her organic rabbit meat) to the highly discriminating culinary community. Gigi applied her education and experience in marketing high end fashion to their family farm business believing that the principles of marketing and production can be applied to any industry. Together with other small farm owners in Batangas, Philippines, she is busy promoting agritourism activities and training fellow small farm owners how to conduct agritourism and agri-culinary activities. She is passionate about her campaign for local food. Her trendsetting ideas in promoting the farm to fork concept earned her the moniker, The Forksetter.

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