Hibiscus sabdariffa

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Related Links
Detail of flowers and leaves.
© Morton J.
Harvested calyses.
© Armstrong W.P.

Local names:
English (white sorrel,rozelle,roselle,red sorrel,jamaica), Malay (asam susur), Thai (kachieb priew)

Hibiscus sabdariffa is an erect, mostly branched, annual shrub. Stem reddish in colour and up to 3.5 m tall, with a deep penetrating taproot.

Leaves variously colored, dark green to red; leaves alternate, glabrous, long-petiolate, palmately divided into 3-7 lobes, with serrate margins.

Flowers large, short-peduncled, red to yellow with dark center. The accrescent large and fleshy sepals become enlarged and succulent, making excellent jelly.

Capsules ovoid, beaked and hairy 5 cm long, 5.3 cm wide.

Several cultivars are known, the best known are: 'Victor', 'Rico' and 'Archer'. Of the botanical varieties: var. sabdariffa, has red or pale yellow inflated edible calyces, but poor fiber; var. altissima is grown for its fiber, but has inedible calyces. There is a green form known as the white sorrel, with greenish-white fruits.


H. sabdariffa tolerates a warm and humid tropical climate, and is susceptible to damage from frost and fog.

Native range
Angola, Egypt, Guatemala, Guinea, India, Myanmar, Nigeria, Philippines

Tree management

It is not shade tolerant and must be kept weed-free, weeding for the first month is important. Tolerate floods, heavy winds or stagnant water. Applications of stable manure or commercial fertilizers are beneficial, roselle responds favourably to applications of nitrogen, 45 kg/ha is recommended in India, applied in the form of compost or mineral fertilizer in conjunction with a small quantity of phosphate. In Java green manure from Mimosa invisa is plowed under before it starts to produce mature seeds. Also in Java the following fertilizer rates are recommended for roselle: 80 kg N/ha, 36–54 kg P 2O5/ha and 75–100 kg K 2O/ha. Yields for roselle in legume fallow plots are significantly high. Generally the crop should be ready for picking 5-6 months after planting or 15-20 days after flowering continuing for about 2 months. In Indonesia fiber is harvested is about 10 months from planting. When grown for its fiber, it is planted closely to produce long stems with little foilage.

H. sabdariffa tolerates a warm and humid tropical climate, and is susceptible to damage from frost and fog.

Seeds for home gardens of roselle are sown directly in rows. Soil preparation should be deep, about 20 cm, and thorough. Seed, 11–22 kg/ha depending upon the soil, is drilled about 15 cm x 15 cm at beginning of rainy season, mid-April in India, planting to a depth of about 0.5 cm. Broadcasting is not recommended because of uneven stand.

Poison:  H. sabdariffa is toxic to Schistosoma mansoni at 50-100 ppm, showing both miracidicidal and cercaricidal activity.

  Source of a red beverage known as ‘jamaica’ in Mexico. Calyx, called karkade in Switzerland, is used in jams, jellies, sauces, and wines. In the west Indies and elsewhere in the tropics the fleshy calyces are used fresh for making roselle wine, jelly, syrup, gelatin, refreshing beverages, pudding, and cakes, and dried roselle is used for tea, jelly, marmalade, ices, ice-cream, sherbets, butter, pies, sauces, tarts, and other desserts. Tender leaves and stalks are eaten as salad and a pot-herb. The leaves are used for seasoning curries and also consumed as vegetable.

Apiculture:  Flowers are a source of pollen and nectar for bees.

H. sabdariffa stem and wood are potential raw materials for charcoal making.

Fibre:  Roselle is cultivated primarily for the bast fiber obtained from the stems. The fiber strands, up to 1.5 m long, are used for cordage and as a substitute for jute in the manufacture of burlap.

Lipids:  Roselle seed oil is rich in linoleic acid and is a candidate source for vegetable oils.

Medicine:  The roselle is useful in arteriosclerosis. Reported to be antiseptic, aphrodisiac, astringent, cholagogue, demulcent, digestive, diuretic, emollient, purgative, refrigerant, resolvent, sedative, stomachic, and tonic, roselle is a folk remedy for abscesses, bilious conditions, cancer, cough, debility, dyspepsia, dysuria, fever, hangover, heart ailments, hypertension, neurosis, scurvy, and strangury. The drink made by placing the calyx in water, is said to be a folk remedy for cancer. Medicinally, leaves are emollient, and are much used in Guinea as a diuretic, refrigerant and sedative; fruits are antiscorbutic; leaves, seeds, and ripe calyces are antiscorbutic. In Myanmar, the seeds are used for debility and the leaves as emollient. Taiwanese regard the seed as diuretic, laxative and tonic. In Philippines the bitter root is used as an aperitive and tonic. Angolans use the mucilaginous leaves as an emollient and as a soothing cough remedy. Central Africans poultice the leaves on abscesses. Ingestion of the plant extract reportedly decreases the rate of absorption of alcohol.

Ornamental:  The roselle is a multiple-use species with beautiful flowers.

Intercropping: A crop rotation system of legume green-manure crop, roselle and then corn is recommended to limit the parasitic root-knot nematode, Heterodera radicicola.