The Historic FoodieRoselle, or Jamaica Sorrel, as it was also called, was also called the Florida Cranberry, though it is in no sense of the word a cranberry from a horticultural standpoint. It is in reality a Hibiscus (H. sabdariffa), akin to okra, which is H. esculentus. In growth it is a strong, tall growing plant from five to seven feet in height and revels in hot weather. For years it has been widely cultivated in the tropics. It does require a long growing period to mature.

“The flowers are solitary, with a red and thick calyx. These calices, when cooked, make an excellent sauce or jelly, almost identical in flavor and color with the better known cranberry of the North. It is this fact that has given it the name of the Florida Cranberry. A few plants in the garden will supply all family needs for pies, sauces, jellies and coloring matter, the same as the cranberry, and at a far lesser cost than that of purchasing the Northern grown product. Unlike the okra, however, the green seed pod is not edible”. — Bateman, Lee. Florida Trucking for Beginners. 1913.

Bateman spoke of roselle being grown in south to mid-Florida, however, two years prior Kennerly felt it would do well outside that area. It was noted growing in California. “This is an annual plant that has been sufficiently tested to prove it will grow to perfection in this climate. The fruit resembles Scarlet Podded Okra … It is a native of Australia, and great quantities of it are shipped from this point to all parts of Europe every season and net a handsome profit. Any land that will grow okra will grow the Florida cranberry.” — Kennerly, Clarence Hickman. 1911.

Its history is rooted in the Old World Tropics and it was introduced to the West Indies and elsewhere in tropical America. Hans Sloane, reported on it being grown in Jamaica as early as 1707. He found it in most gardens there and said of it, “The capsular leaves are made use of for making Tarts, Gellies, and Wine, to be used in fevers and hot distempers, to allay heat and quench thirst”. — Yearbook of Agriculture.

The first improved strain was named Victor, however, the author has found no source for Victor today.  P. J. Wester, Special Agent in the bureau of Plant Industry, is credited with tweaking it from wild strains. In 1904, he began collecting seed from plants bearing the largest calyces and which showed the most desirable characteristics. By 1906, the second generation of plants under his care possessed the qualities he sought and the strain continued from those plants. He described it as a slow-maturing plant. In fact, if planted in February or March it may not produce until around October.

A late Victorian writer said the flowers on the plant open at sunrise and close about noon. The flowers are beautiful and look like hibiscus flowers. In addition to pies, sauce, and jelly he claimed the fruit made good wine and “temperance drinks”. — The Florida Agriculturist. Vol. 25. 1898.

2/25/2016 4:56:25 PM

Historic Foodie, the picture of those pods look very odd even alien. Like another planet alien. Being from the Midwest, I'm very limited on variety of plants. Anything other than corn, beans, or small grain is considered a weed and must be killed. well, that's mostly the mentality but I'm trying to change that thinking for myself. ***** Have a great Roselle day.

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters