Using Rosellas – A Self Sufficient Perspective

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Harvested Rosella Calyxes
Harvested Rosella Calyxes

Every year I look forward to the abundance of fruit our Rosella plants give.

As the small shrubs begin to fill out and the first flowers start displaying their colors, I enjoy watching the little bush bees take full advantage of the nectar and our tiny sunbirds, who spend a significant amount of the day flying from flower to flower.

The flowers are like all varieties of Hibiscus and are only on display for a day, but my goodness, they are pretty.

What parts of Rosella Plants are used in a Self-Sufficient Yard?

As these plants are generally self-sown, they grow all around the yard in any position that receives full sun. There are a couple of pockets in the yard where the plants are an actual thicket, and in other spots only one or two plants grow.

As this bush has such an excellent yield of fruit, we pretty much encourage the plants to grow where they want and fill any spare spots with a few more. This article titled “Growing hibiscus sabdariffa : leaving the seeds to self sow” gives more depth on this topic.

When it is time to pick the fruit, the first crop is the smallest; however it needs to be done carefully for the second flush of flowers to come on.

The following 1 or 2 pickings (and on good years 3) are generally the biggest, and then they get smaller as the season goes on and the bugs start to appear. We pick all we can and then leave the bush alone, allowing the remaining seeds to dry naturally and drop to germinate themselves for the following season.

One of the main criteria for a plant to get so much real estate in our yard needs to be its end use in the pantry. If it can have (as a plant) at least three uses, that’s great; however the Rosella has at least 5…. we like it even more.

Rosellas
Rosella Plant Thicket

Below I go into more detail about the five sections of this wonderfully useful plant, the Rosella.

  1. Flowers
  2. Leaves
  3. Fruit Calyxes
  4. Seed Pods
  5. Plant

1. What can be done with the Rosella Flowers?

  • Flowers are edible
  • Use petals in salads and as decoration on food plates
  • Great for making home made flower vinegars

The flowers of the Rosella plant have uses both in the kitchen as a food source and are beneficial to the wildlife in the garden.

The local birds and bees take advantage of these plants as we generally have a lot of them growing throughout the yard in all different positions.

We have seen a few different varieties of birds enjoying the nectar, some of them so big the bushes bend over, and other birds are so small they would fit inside a teacup.

When the season is in full swing, the bees put on a show and don’t seem to mind sharing the space with other species.

There are of course ants that also take advantage of the sweet moisture produced by these flowers

Lastly, for us, we can eat the flowers. However, I prefer to use them in the making of flower vinegar.

2. Are Rosella Leaves edible?

The beauty of the Rosella plant is that the leaves are also edible and quite delicious. I find the leaves are at their most tender stage, just before the flowering kicks in.

I generally use more of these leaves leading up to our winter as our garden beds are not yet producing, and other softer greens in the yard are a little delicate for all but salads, sandwiches, and egg dishes. I find them to have a sweet/tart flavor to them.

When using them as the main green veg ( for example, making Bolognese-type meals), you may find your mix turning slightly pink, sometimes unexpectedly so. Depending on the age of the plant will determine this color change.

Here are a few ideas for swapping them for other items in the Kitchen/pantry.

  • Replace where you use Spinach greens
  • Small leaves in salad
  • Steamed Greens
  • Dehydrate
  • Freeze
  • I use in Pasta dishes, Stews, Stir Fry, etc.

They are quite a hardy Green Leaf Veg for an all-round Kale/Spinach replacement in the kitchen.

Separating Rosella Flesh from Pods
Pod and Fruit Separation

3. How to use the Rosella Fruit Calyxes.

The Fruit Calyxes is the fruit removed from the plant used to make your Tea, jams, cordials, or chutneys. There are so many uses for the fruit of this plant. It truly is the gold of the Rosella plant.

The calyxes are the fruit you picked after the flowers have dropped and enough time has passed for the fruit to become a little larger.

If you pick the fruit before it is big enough, it is a little hard to separate from the pods, which causes frustration.

Never a good thing when you are trying to process at least 10 kilos at any one time. Separate the Calyxes from the Pod. This is done simply by peeling back the red fleshy piece, exposing the pod and any stem bit still attached, and tearing it off. Simple.

Separate them into separate bowls. Do NOT discard the pods as they have their use when making jams.

The red fruit can be eaten fresh. However, I recommend eating it early in the season as the older fruit gets these tiny prickle-like hairs around the outside (similar to Pumpkin leaf prickle) and may cause discomfort when eating.

I don’t find it to be an exceptional eating fruit, just something to munch on whilst in the garden.

Adding the fruit to stir-fries and salads as an extra ingredient helps to extend the dishes.

Dehydrating the fruit (calyxes) is my favorite form of preserving this fruit during the picking season. I will have two dehydrators constantly running for weeks. I will also use the fresh fruit to make Jams, Cordials, Spiced chutneys, Sauces, etc

Below is how we use the Calyxes

  • Rosella wine
  • Jams
  • Cordial
  • Relish
  • Sauce
  • Spiced Chutney
  • Dehydrate for Hot or Cold Tea
  • As a natural coloring additive in cooking
  • Dried flower / Herb Vinegars
  • Cooking in pies ( apple/rosella )
  • Freezing for later use
  • Fruit flesh can be added to Stir Fry cooking to help bulk out as extra veg.

I will eventually have links to all the ways I use the fruit in upcoming posts.

Rosella Wine
Rosella Wine Making

4. Are the Rosella Seed Pods useful?

When the Rosella Calyxes have been peeled away from the Pods, you should keep these fresh green rosella pods are they are helpful and needed to make your own pectin for the jam-making process.

At the beginning to 3/4 through the season, if you are making Rosella Jam or a mix that needs to be naturally thickened, then the pods need to be kept each time for this purpose if you don’t want to use store-bought pectin. I find they give a more excellent finish to the Jams, not as hard to spread.

  • Rosella Seed Pods are used to make their own pectin for Jam and some spreads. Use them only for this if they are still green and have not in any way begun to open up to expose the seeds within
  • When the Rosella Seed Pods are starting to go brown or are slightly opening up, or have bugs or mold starting to move in, either toss them where you would like next seasons shrubs to grow or simply leave the fruit on the bush and allow to dry and fall naturally.
  • If making wine, don’t feel tempted to toss the whole fruit in because the released pectin will cause cloudiness. No one needs to wait any longer than necessary for wine to clear. :0)

When I next do jam and wine there will be a link to the recipes

5. Uses for the Rosella Plant in the garden.

In our self-reliant lifestyle, the Rosella plant is indispensable as it benefits many other plants in the garden, is excellent for the wildlife, and is used as mulch at the end of its season.

  • Nurse plant for Young Permanent trees
  • Source of Food for Local wildlife
  • Supply of Fruit to fill our shelves
  • Seed Store for next season
  • Next seasons Self sowing Seedlings
  • Chop and Drop Mulch

As I mentioned earlier, our Rosella Plants are growing in many places in the Yard. There is a “thicket” of them in our yard where the Rosella Plants do their own thing every year.

We mulch their feet, have sweet potato plants as the ground cover, and let them be. They create dappled shade for the sweet potato, keeping the soil moist, and this, in turn, gives us another crop of sweet potato tubers. Very Symbiotic.

We also like to use the Rosella Plants as a “nurse” plant until other more young permanent plants become established. They create a fantastic shady element for the new tree ( coffee, for example) to settle in.

Rosella’s roots are unobtrusive, leaving the new plant to settle in quickly. At the end of the season (generally a year), we can remove the spent Rosella bush, and the new permanent (Coffee ) tree will have now settled in.

As the season comes to a close for the Rosella, the fruit that may be still on the plant becomes dry and starts to drop its seeds.

There can be as many as twenty seeds in each pod, and that’s a lot of chances for more seedlings next season. Those hundreds of dropped seeds now have to get through the wet season and survive any potential seed eaters on the ground, i.e., chickens, pigeons, bandicoots, etc.

Once it looks like the plants are well and truly done, we “chop and drop” them and add them to the mulch underneath. Nothing leaves the block.

Scores of seedlings will emerge next year after the Wet and the “thicket” will return, and we will again thin out a few, plant them in some choice full sun spots in the yard and do it all again.

During the Rosella Plants’ life, it has had the year to grow, spread out, and feed the local wildlife, while we have collected the fruit to stock our shelves and to create gifts for family and friends. It’s a tough, generous and useful plant. That is why it is on our List of Hardy Plants.

Rosella Tea
Rosella Tea

In conclusion

The Rosella plant is one that ticks all the boxes for a multi-use bush and is of our favorites. We love it and are sure you will too.

This article was written by Tui Blanch. She is Co-owner of TheTropicalHomestead.com and has well over 20yrs experience in preserving and storing food.