How to grow, harvest and use rosella

How to Grow, Harvest and Use Rosella (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

I love Rosella season. This simple robust plant is one of my favourites in the garden. I look forward to collecting the red ‘fruits’ every year to have fresh, but also to dry and use for the rest of the year – my absolute favourite tea – especially blended with freshly plucked Lemon Myrtle leaves. My Rosella plants are just bursting with abundance right now, and the more I collect them, the more they produce.

For an overview of how to grow and harvest this plant, take look the YouTube video (3:16 mins) I just made in my garden:

For vivid colour, intense flavour and health benefits, I definitely recommend planting Rosellas in the garden if you are in a warmer climate. The striking colour of the red flower calyx  (the ‘fruit)  adds such a beautiful contrast in the garden.  The petals, the flower calyces, and the leaves are all edible and delicious too!

Benefits of Rosella (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

  • Rosella is high in vitamin C (9 x stronger than orange)
  • Easy to grow
  • Fast growing
  • Hardy and pest resistant


How to use Rosella:

  1. eat the leaves – also known as Pacific Sorrel or Red Sorrel. It has a lovely lemony taste like sorrel – a little in a salad, mostly I use it in stir fry and curry.
  2. eat the yellow flower petals – add to a salad
  3. eat the fresh flower calyx (quite tart like rhubarb) – nice added to a salad
  4. add the red calyx when cooking up stewed fruit for added colour and flavour
  5. make a tea from the fresh calyx – similar to rosehip – fabulous colour! Blend with other herbs. 
  6. make and iced tea too
  7. dry the flower calyx for tea throughout the year
  8. make jam from the flower calyx
  9. make a cordial from the flower calyx
  10. roast and grind the seeds into a flour
  11. make an edible hedge
  12. use as an in-garden windbreak for a summer garden
  13. make fibre for garden twine from the stems

NB: The calyx is the the protective layer around a flower – the Rosella ‘fruit’.

After removing the seedpods, we open out the rosella calyces to dry
The Rosella calyx will shrink a lot when dried and become crispy. I store these in a jar on the shelf and use in teas. As much as I can I dry them in the sun, and just finish them in the electric drier if needed (powered by solar).
One of our favourite teas with rosella also has a couple of lemon myrtle leaves, or a squirt of lime and a slice of fresh ginger. The kids love it iced.
Hugh and Maia enjoying their own brew of iced rosella, ginger and lime tea.

How to grow Rosella

Rosella is a low-maintenance, easy-going plant that pretty much looks after itself.  I love these types of productive hardy plants!

Rosella grows to about 2 metres in fairly rich, well-drained soils. Here in South East Queensland I usually plant Rosella in Spring as the weather warms up and mulch them well for a good start. I am now harvesting lots each week in March/April. 

They start flowering from 3 months and if I look after them and keep harvesting, they produce for months until the frost comes. I find the best time to harvest the ‘fruit’ is nice and plump – around 3cm diameter and the tip is just starting to open (before they start to dry out and get ants inside).

 I plant around 5 or 6 of these shrubs, each year to provide enough calyxes (‘fruits’) to make a good amount of tea, which I love, and sometimes I make jam or cordial too.
Rosella grows in a wide range of climates – from tropical to subtropical, arid to dry temperate.  I get frosts here so they die back in winter. In frost free areas though you can get a couple of years from them – trim them back in winter and let new growth flourish again in the second spring.
Rosella has edible leaves, flowers and calyces (the red ‘fruits’).
You don’t need to wait for the ‘fruits’. Start harvesting the leaves once the young plant becomes established. Tip pruning actually helps to keep the plant in a bushy form.

Where is rosella from?

Rosella is originally from West Africa, but has also been grown for centuries in India and the Pacific, and popular in Jamaica, France, Indonesia and many parts of the world. A Brisbane community gardener told me of an Indian family that come to collect as much Rosella leaves that they can to process and eat through the year. 
Most people in Queensland usually just grow them for their calyx and do not know that their leaves and petals are edible too. If you take the tips off, it helps them to become bushier too – more leaves to eat.
I grow at least 5 hardy Rosella plants each year.

Saving Rosella seed

Inside the red calyx you will find the seed pod. Let some of the pods mature on the plant until they are dry and save these seeds for next warm season.
Mature Rosella seedpods will open and release their seeds when ready.

7 Responses

  1. Cheryl
    Cheryl at |

    Thanks so much for this post and video Morag, I've always wanted to grow rosella's, but knew nothing about them. I have a particular fondness for the jam, but I'm sure I would love the tea too 🙂

  2. Bill Bilodeau
    Bill Bilodeau at |

    Fine edible plant with good ornamental qualities. We grow it here in west central Florida. My Jamaican neighbors make a beautiful scarlet-colored Christmas beverage from the calyxes. Bill Bilodeau

  3. Unknown
    Unknown at |

    Really enjoyed the article and love my rosella plant. Are you saying that the plant itself only lasts a couple of years? Thank you

  4. Morag Gamble : Our Permaculture Life
    Morag Gamble : Our Permaculture Life at |

    That sounds delicious!

  5. Morag Gamble : Our Permaculture Life
    Morag Gamble : Our Permaculture Life at |

    Here it grows as an annual. In more tropical parts of the world, it grows as a short-lived perennial (a few years).

  6. Morag Gamble : Our Permaculture Life
    Morag Gamble : Our Permaculture Life at |

    I hope you get to give it a try – it really is delicious.

  7. MargaretF
    MargaretF at |

    I have had great success growing rosellas in Brisbane- such a versatile and beautiful bush. But I have had difficulty buying seedlings recently. Thanks for a great article. I'll keep searching for the plants for next season.