Roselle Hibiscus Pomegranate Fire Cider and the Medicine and Cultivation of Hibiscus

Hibiscus sabdariffa, Malvaceae

I try not to foster any regrets in life. But I must confess that I waited too many years to plant hibiscus, thinking the temperate climate unsuitable for its success, and for that, I am sorry. It is, in fact, easy to grow and harvest if you have the right variety and get a head start on the season. Hibiscus tea, also called roselle, is made from the calyces (sepals, part of the flower) of Hibiscus sabdariffa in the Mallow family (Malvaceae). Other notable members in the mallow family are cotton, okra, rose of sharron and marshmallow. Roselle has a flower similar in appearance to ornamental hibiscuses, but its flower is smaller, and therefore less showy. There are other species of hibiscus with edible flowers, but no other species has a similar medicinal and edible calyx. When the petals fall off, the receptacle (flower base) and calyx (sepals) remain as fleshy red crowns (see the picture below of the flower with the petals intact (on the left), and the remaining calyx (on the right)).

You can harvest the calyx as long as it is still pliable and red; I like to wait until it’s larger to maximize the harvest. I leave the green ovary intact (see the picture below), and chop it up along with the calyx for fresh or dried tea; the developing ovary is mucilaginous and is especially helpful in lowering cholesterol and nourishing healthy intestinal flora.

Hibiscus calyx surrounding the developing fruit (large ovary)

Hibiscus corolla (petals) in the early morning

Native to India and Malaysia, hibiscus has been widely adopted by tropical people around the globe as a refreshing medicinal tonic tea; the calyx is also made into jams and chutneys. The young greens are edible, and eaten in many tropical locations. Hibiscus is quite popular in the Caribbean and Central America as a cold herbal tea mixed with sugar; this drink is called sorrel in the islands and agua de Flor de Jamaica in Mexico. Roselle has been used traditionally as a medicinal for its diuretic, hypotensive, and anti-microbial properties.

High in anti-oxidant bioflavonoids, hibiscus has been the focus of many recent studies for its anti-inflammatory, cardio-protective, neuroprotective, and hepatoprotective qualities. It is a good tonic tea for people with heart disease and high cholesterol, along with being a general preventative against free radical stress in the body. Take care with heartburn, as it can aggravate the condition with its sour flavor, and it may be too cooling for folks who run very cold.

Hibiscus ice cubes on the left
Hibiscus ice cubes with herbal iced tea on right

Recipe for hibiscus ice cubes

Cultivation:

Hibiscus can be grown as an annual in temperate climates, and as a perennial in zones 9-11. Plant the seeds in the greenhouse when you would plant tomato starts. Rub the seeds between a little sandpaper to increase germination (for more on stratification). Plant the seeds in a large pot, as it doesn’t always take well to transplanting or potting up. Transplant out into the garden when the danger of frost has passed; give it two to three foot spacing. I like to underplant the Hibiscus with spilanthes or gotu kola (see the picture below of Hibiscus growing with passionflower, holy basil, spilanthes, shiso and anise hyssop). Hibiscus typically flowers when the days grow shorter in the fall (short-day flowering), but there are varieties that flower earlier in the season, such as the Thai red roselle (pictured throughout this article). You can purchase the seeds from Southern Seed Exposure here. Thai red roselle begins to flower mid-summer, allowing for harvest before the first frost.

Top- Roselle Hibiscus growing in an herbal garden polyculture
Bottom- Roselle Hibiscus with flowers and developing fruit

 Hibiscus Pomegranate Cheater Fire Cider

Fire cider is basically spicy herbal vinegar, often sweetened with a little honey. It is taken by the dropperfull or spoonful, depending on the cider’s strength and imbiber’s palette. Fire cider helps to clear out the sinuses and wake up the immune and circulatory systems. It can be taken to ward off a cold or other respiratory infection. Those with poor circulation can ingest fire cider tonically. This particular recipe is especially beneficial for high blood pressure and atherosclerosis due to the bioflavonoids in the hibiscus and pomegranate, along with the medicinal attributes of garlic and ginger. As you may imagine, fire cider can potentially aggravate heartburn, peptic ulcers, and gastrointestinal inflammation. In addition, it will be too heating on a long-term basis for those with fiery constitutions (Pitta).

Why is it cheater fire cider? Typically, fire cider is made by placing the ingredients in a glass jar and letting it sit for a moon’s passing or for six weeks. This recipe is a one-day affair. If you have more time, and want to maximize your ingredients and make a stronger cider, you can complete step 1, adding the hibiscus, and let the slurry sit for a month. The pomegranate juice can be added right before straining. After a month, you can finish the recipe below, skipping the heating part.

Left – hbiscus harvest
Right – the same hibiscus dried in a jar with the ingredients for hibiscus fire cider

This recipe makes eight to nine bottles (8 ounce) and should be refrigerated for longer-term storage. If you are making the recipe just for yourself, I recommend making a fourth of all the ingredients (yielding about 16 ounces of fire cider, or a pint). It may keep unrefrigerated for a short period, but the extra liquid from the pomegranate and oranges may dilute the vinegar enough to allow microbial growth.

Milder and sweeter than other fire cider recipes, hibiscus pomegranate fire cider makes a great gift for the herbally uninitiated. I promise, I won’t tell if your fire cider finds its way into the loving embrace of bubbles and gin. However, I most certainly wouldn’t condone, under any circumstance, the mixing of fire cider with tequila and pomegranate juice, served in a martini glass with a salted rim.

Ingredient list for 70 ounces of Hibiscus Pomegranate fire cider:

  • 64 ounces of apple cider vinegar
  • 10 ounces honey
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • Fresh Ginger  (10″ of a man’s-thumb-width piece)
  • Fresh Turmeric (10″ of a man’s-thumb-width piece, or 3 Tablespoons powder)
  • Horseradish (1.5 cups of coarsely chopped 1″ pieces)
  • 2 large pomegranates (plump, succulent, and garnet in color)
  • 2 oranges
  • 8 dried cayenne peppers (or 2 teaspoons dried cayenne powder)
  • 4 Tablespoons dried, loose hibiscus
  1. Peel the garlic, and coarsely chop the onions, horseradish, and turmeric. Place them in a food processor or blender, along with the cayenne peppers, with enough apple cider vinegar to cover. Blend carefully with the lid on, and take care not to let fumes or slurry enter your eyes.
  2. Place the slurried spiciness in a double boiler. Don’t have one? Nest a smaller pot in a bigger pot or saucepan and use a couple of upside-down mason jar rings to keep the inside pot up off the outside one. Add a little water to the outside pot and voila – double boiler! Add the rest of the apple cider vinegar to the slurry and keep the heat on low, with the lid on! Let the mixture heat on low (don’t let it get above 120 degrees) for three hours, stirring once in a while. Again, careful with the fumes!!!!
  3. Meanwhile, back at the bat cave, peel your oranges and de-seed the pomegranates, sneaking off a nibble or two. Put on an old apron and mash the pomegranates and oranges with a potato masher in the sink.
  4. After a couple hours, taste the slurry. If it’s too mild for your fire cider pleasure, this is your chance to add more of the spicy herbs and cook for one more hour. After three hours of total cook time, turn off the heat and add the hibiscus and the juicy pomegranate/orange mixture. Let sit for one hour and check the color- if it’s too light in color add more hibiscus. When the cider is a beautiful red, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or potato ricer. You will need to squeeze out or press the slurry, or you will loose a great deal of the medicine. Add the honey and mix well, making sure all the honey is dissolved. Place in clear glass jars, label and refrigerate. Dosage is one teaspoon as needed.

 

38 thoughts on “Roselle Hibiscus Pomegranate Fire Cider and the Medicine and Cultivation of Hibiscus

  1. Hi, thanks so much for a well informed research and report on Roselles. I am from Nigeria, West Africa were a large quantity of Roselle flower is cultivated. People only use it prepare a popular drink called “ZOBO”. Because it’s cheap people dont value its medicinal properties and not many go for it. I have initiated a start-up company to begin producing and marketing Roselle Tea because of it’s rich herbal properties. But i am concerned about it’s shelve life- how long it will be possible to store it so as not to expire on time and maintain its medicinal properties. Please what do you advice. Thanks so much!

    • The prepared tea without any preservatives has a very short shelf-life, less than 12 hours at room temperature and up to 3 days refrigerated. The dried herb material itself can be stored for a year or more if kept in dark and dry conditions. Best of luck to you!

  2. Hi, thanks for the recipe. I started making it, and did the slow method. However, I forgot to put the hibiscus in at the start. How would you recommend finishing it? Do I have to let this macerate for another month, heat it, or just give it a few days?

    • Yes, this is a cheater recipe, but if you have more time, and want to maximize your ingredients and make a stronger cider, you can complete step 1, and let the slurry sit for a month. After a month, you can finish the recipe below, skipping the heating part.

      • If you do the slow method – do you need to do anything to ensure that the pomegranate and hibiscus infuse enough? Since it won’t be heated, how long would you recommend letting the pom and hibiscus sit in there before straining?

  3. This is absolutely WONDERFUL! I grew Thai red roselle last summer (in Texas) and knew that I could harvest the calyxes but didn’t really know what to do with them. I left the plant out there to see if it could survive winter in hopes of giving it another go without starting from seed again. Now I’m excited to grow it again! Thank you for the valuable information!

  4. I found this recipe after discovering how much I like hibiscus and it sounds really flavoursome however I have a hard time digesting raw onions. I’d like to try my hand at making it with the longer process, do you think the vinegar would tone down the onions enough for easier digestion?
    Thanks so much!

  5. thanks so much for all of this wonderful information about roselle! I was wondering – do you usually chop up the green ovary with all the seeds inside? thank you!

    • Lilian,
      I have left the ovary and chopped it all up, dried it and its been fine. This year we have been letting the calyces mature (So they are bigger) and then hand peeling them from the ovary (its kind of woody and large at this point).
      Hope that helps!
      juliet

  6. Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing Juliet. I am teaching a medicine making class in a few weeks and this recipe is definitely getting added to the menu! Am just curious what other herbs you might consider using besides hisbiscus in this kind of a vinegar? Thanks again!

    • Marisa,
      The hibiscus gives the vinegar a nice red color, and also imparts its own cardiotonic, anti-microbial, hypocholesterolemic, and hepatic qualities into the vinegar. You could add shiso (Perilla frutescens) of the purple variety or any of the purple basils, and they would color the vinegar purple. Have fun experimenting!
      Juliet

  7. Thank you for sharing the recipe for Fire Cider. This is much appealing then one recently given to me…love the addition of the pomegranate/hibiscus. I shall enjoy making this!

  8. Alyssa Sacora says:

    It is so nice to run across this article. I had the pleasure of discovering “sorrel” in Grenada. The locals make a decoction with cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves, then add the sorrel to steep for 10-15 minutes. It is served strained, cooled, and with a little sugar. There is also a sorrel Carib, a light beer with sorrel added to it. I will be trying my hand at growing it this year. Thanks for the growing instructions.

  9. Lara Celeste Mack says:

    Juliet! Thank you so much for this recipe! This is going into the stockings and hands of many friends and family this holiday 🙂 I could have sworn that I had seen you write where you got the bottles for this fire cider gift but now I can’t find it anywhere… is there a place to purchase the bottles in Asheville? Thanks and love and wellness to you!

  10. I HAVE A DARK REDDISH WHAT I BELIEVE TO BE A ROSELLE HIBISCUS. THE LEAVES LOOK LIKE MARIIJUNA, THE FLOWER LOOKS LIKE A HIBISCUS BUT IT HAS ALMOST BLACK FLOWERS, BUT THEY ARE MORE FO A DEEP PURPLE.IT’S FAST GROWING AND QUITE A CONVERSIONAL. PLEASE LET KNOW WHAT YOU THINK IT MIGHT BE. I WAS WOMDERING IF IT COULD BE KENAF

  11. I just made this, and it’s fantastic. I am a newbie so I just wanted to ask about how long does this keep in the fridge. Also making a regular fire cider and curious what the shelf life on that is as well. Thanks! Just saw the lavender truffle recipe too..

  12. I’ve never got these to grow for a second year, even when kept warm in a greenhouse. They always seem to die after fruiting, even if they haven’t frozen yet. I got some seeds from Baker Creek Seeds and I really like this variety. I’ve tried a bunch of others that I don’t like so much. Malaysia has some interesting varieties I’d like to try, but can’t find any way to get seeds. For germinating seeds, I found that the potting media I mix up tends to rot a lot of the seeds. To get better germination, I’ll fill and tamp a pot about an inch below the rim with my regular soil, sprinkle on the seeds, and then sift some pine bark to get just the really small pieces, and put those on top of the seeds. The pine bark has a lot more and larger pore spaces and doesn’t hold water so much. Certain types of seeds seem to germinate much better when covered with sifted pine bark bits than with a denser soil. I use that method for roselle and Moringa. The Edible Plant Project usually sells plants in the spring. We sold a variety I’m discontinuing last year and switching to Thai red roselle, assuming our seed crop has sufficient viability.

      • Hi Ann, I’ve been making Kombucha since 02/15 and often make ginger hibiscus kt…my Mom grows them in her garden here in Fla. When I make my kt, I usually put a good handful of dried hibiscus flowers along with some green tea for my 1f, then add sugar….I usually add candied ginger during my 2f, makes a super ruby red scoby. Really good and good for you!

  13. juliet dear, i still have a batch of (super spicy) full moon fire cider i made for gifts two years back and you’ve inspired me to use it as a base to experiment with hibiscus, pomegranate and orange! yay, a whole new creation for gifts this year, with even prettier color and fruity flower goodness 🙂 where’d you get those pretty little bottles?
    love, kim

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